200 Years in the Making

Riverboat cruises, tours
offer visitors a glimpse back in time

Steamboat Bicentennial
celebrates 1811 voyage

Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(September 2011) – When the riverboats the Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati dock in Madison, Ind., in October, their arrival will mark the highlight of a yearlong celebration of a journey that took place 200 years ago. All year, the Rivers Institute at Hanover College has coordinated and showcased events marking the 1811 voyage of the New Orleans steamboat, whose successful trip on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers proved the viability of steam power and sparked a cultural revolution that would change the United States forever.

Belle of Louisville

Photo provided

The Belle of Louisville will join the
Belle of Cincinnati offering river
cruises from Madison as part of the
Steamboat Celebration in October.

Chuck Parrish, chair of the Steamboat Bicentennial Committee, highlights the significance of Nicholas Roosevelt’s accomplishment of guiding a steamboat up and down the Ohio River, noting that, “It’s not only an important event for the area, but an important event in American history.”
He explains that not only did the transportation revolution of being able to travel upstream with relative ease open the markets to new economic trade, but also to cultural trade as well. The steamboats would come to influence what people ate, how they designed buildings, and even how they entertained themselves.\
“Jazz music originated in the South and came north on steamboats,” explains Parrish.
The Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati will both take part in a long weekend of cultural and entertainment events from Oct. 14-16. A wide range of tours and cruises will be available to give residents a glimpse of what steam travel would have been like years ago. Sample options range from an extended round trip journey from Louisville to Madison and back, to an elegant dinner and ball cruise, to riding the river during an exciting steamboat race between the two Belles. For those seeking a quick peek on board a steamboat, docked tours will be available for $1.

Celebration Events

• Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.: “Wilderness Plots” at the Ohio Theatre, 105 E. Main St., Madison
• Oct. 1-31: Riverboats of the Ohio River Art Show at the Madison Art Club Gallery, 509 Jefferson St., Madison
• Oct. 14-16: Various cruises about the Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati on the Ohio River in Madison
• Oct. 15-16: Legacy of Steam Power Show at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site
• Oct. 16, 12:30-2 p.m.:
Of Times and Rivers: Downstream in History featuring book signing and talk by author James Alexander Thom at the Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St., Madison

Rivers Institute's Director of External Relations Marissa Austin believes that the Bicentennial Steamboat Race will prove to be one of the highlights of the Celebration. She notes that the CEO of the Belle of Louisville and the Captain of the Belle of Cincinnati have been jokingly “trash talking” about the race.
“They have a lot of fun and that makes it fun for the passengers,” she says. The only other time that these two boats meet head to head is during the race that occurs as part of the Kentucky Derby Celebration and Austin is delight to report that “We are just as exciting as Derby.”
The arrival of the steamboats in Madison will provide area school children a rare educational opportunity. Field trips to visit the Belle of Louisville will offer the chance for area school children giving students to see a real steam powered boat first hand. Austin says that similar excursions were very well received by students last year and notes that, “They were so excited, it was so much fun to see them.”
Parrish notes that it is a particularly special for people to see a steamboat that is 97 years old. The Belle of Louisville is the oldest Western Rivers boat still in existence. The age of the boat is even more impressive in light of the fact that the average life expectancy of a steamboat was three to five years due to collisions and fire.
Parrish said he hopes that people will take advantage of the river cruises saying, “The best way to see and know the river is to be on the river in the water.” While many things have changed in the landscape in the years since the crew of the New Orleans steamboat made their voyage, Parrish says that some of undisturbed forests still stand along the Ohio River and that his research has uncovered a few buildings that were built more than 200 years ago that are still standing along the river. He encourages anyone with an interest in transportation history, the river, or just enjoying the scenery to take part in the Celebration.

• For more information, visit: hanover.edu/bicentennial.

Back to September 2011 Articles.



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