Festival of Riverboats
Belle of Louisville to take
center stage at riverboat gala
Weeklong festival to be highlighted
by her 100th Birthday Bash
(October 2014) – Mark Doty performs his job as Head Captain of the Belle of Louisville as if it were made especially for him. Cruising the Ohio River every day aboard the 100-year-old steamboat is a dream come true – and a job shared only by a few.
Doty, 52, said he “started working for the company in 1981. I was looking for summer work right out of high school.”
Growing up in Shively, he had never even stepped foot on a boat until then. The closest he came to a boat was fishing on a johnboat with his father. Getting a job on the Belle was a good fit because he’s been there ever since. Doty was licensed as a Head Captain in 1996 and has been Head Captain of the Belle since 2007.
Doty oversees up to 70 employees who are always trained in-house. Every day brings new adventures and experiences with it. “Every day is different,” he said.
Although sweeping, prepping and upkeep are non-stop duties, “I have no desire to go anywhere else.”
Schedule of Events
• Tuesday: Opening Ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. with the Belle’s 100th Birthday Parade. Following the ceremony, a New Orleans-style parade will take place to the Riverboat Stage and evolve into music and fireworks.
• Tuesday-Sunday: Day and evening cruises offered aboard five participating riverboats.
• Daily: Free tours of two towboats and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Osage.
• Daily: Artisan Showcase vendors and food and beverage vendors including bourbon, beer and wine.
• Daily: The Belle’s Bourbon Landing. This unique pavilion will be the focal point inside the festival and must-see for visitors.
• Daily: Live music on two stages by 43 different acts at Waterfront Park.
• Friday-Sunday: Humana Healthy Living Bicycle Concierge and Bicycle Village. Offering free valet bicycle parking. Bicycle and tandem bicycle rentals also available.
• Wednesday-Sunday: Riverboat races. Spirit of Jefferson vs. Spirit of Peoria (4:30 p.m. Wed.); Spirit of Peoria vs. Belle of Louisville (8 p.m. Thurs.); Spirit of Peoria vs. River Queen (1:30 p.m. Fri.); Belle of Louisville vs. Bell of Cincinnati vs. American Queen (3 p.m. Sunday).
• Friday: Courier-Journal Balloon Glow. 7:30-9 p.m. at Waterfront Park.
• Saturday: The Belle’s Birthday Bash presented by Fifth Third Bank. Celebration begins at 1:30 p.m. with the Mark Twain Riverboat Parade down the Ohio River featuring all boats and narrated by Twain himself. Evening fireworks display.
• Friday-Sunday: Southern Indiana Steamboat Days. The city of Jeffersonville to host a weekend full of activities, including a juried art village, live art demonstrations, live music on Riverstage, a parade and children’s area. Visit: www.Jeffsteamboatdays.com.
• Festival of Riverboats information: (855) 259-0350 or visit: www.FestivalofRiverboats.com.
He said the best part of his job is not being stuck behind a desk all day or on an assembly line. He is out cruising the water for six months out of the year, then taking care of the upkeep of the boat in the winter months.
Doty said he feels fortunate to be part of a Louisville legacy. “Her being 100 is a milestone. No other boat of her type has reached that age, or ever will, because they’re not made anymore.”
The Belle will be celebrating a century on the water in October 2014. As part of its 100th birthday anniversary, it will be the featured event of the Louisville Centennial Festival of Riverboats Powered by LG&E, set for Oct. 14-19.
Usually, the Kentucky Derby steamboat race against the Belle of Cincinnati is the biggest event of the year for the Belle. But this 100-year anniversary year will top it, in terms of publicity, Doty said. “During the Kentucky Derby week, it’s the Belle’s day to shine. But this festival will give us a whole week to shine.”
Riverboats will be brought in for special cruises and various land activities will be held from Waterfront Park all the way up to where the Belle is wharfed at the Third Street dock. Participating riverboats will come from Cincinnati and Peoria, Ill., and a riverboat parade will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18. The celebration will also include music and fireworks.
The Waterfront Development Corporation, BB Riverboats and the Belle of Louisville are putting on this festival, with title sponsor LG&E. “We wanted to throw an extravagant birthday party,” said Catie Nelson, who is on the planning committee. Many land activities are planned, such as an Artisan Showcase, Belle’s Bourbon Landing, Balloon Glow and a calliope contest. “There will be two stages, so there will be music all day, everyday,” said Nelson. Approximately 43 different acts will perform at Waterfront Park.
For the six-day festival, 42 cruises will take place between the Belle and the Spirit of Jefferson. Both boats are owned and operated by Louisville Metro Government.
Cruises will include breakfast, lunch and dinner cruises, bourbon cruises and wine cruises. Events will take place across the river in Jeffersonville, Ind.
Linda Harris, CEO of the Belle of Louisville said, “This is phenomenal for a riverboat, since the life expectancy of a riverboat was three to five years.”
Festival of Riverboats
and offer Cruises
• Belle of Louisville. The oldest operating steamboat in the world and an iconic symbol of Louisville. Built in 1914 in Pittsburgh as the Idelwild, she is completely paddlewheel-driven and the most widely traveled river steamboat in the nation.
• The Spirit of Jefferson. Built in 1963, this riverboat is a charming mix of historic river travel and modern conveniences. With two enclosed decks and outside seating, she is a boat for all seasons and all types of groups.
• Belle of Cincinnati. Lavish Victorian décor set the atmosphere for an elegant ride on this riverboat. Each deck includes a full bar, dance floor and elevator for fun on every level.
• The Spirit of Peoria. Hailing from Peoria, Ill., this riverboat is one of the last true paddlewheelers. The boat is powered by two Caterpillar 3412 diesel engine generator sets. First and second decks are enclosed and equipped with bars, dance floors, microphones and restrooms.
• The River Queen: Newport, Ky. Tastefully decorated and impeccably preserved, the River Queen exudes romantic riverboat-era charm. Both climate-controlled decks include a spacious seating arrangement, buffet service and full bar.
• American Queen. This riverboat will visit the festival over the weekend only and will not offer public cruises.
• In addition to these excursion riverboats, there will be two towboats and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Osage on display at Waterfront Park. The W.P. Snyder, a coal-fired sternwheeler from Marietta, Ohio, that is no longer operational will be on display with the J.S. Lewis from Charleston, W.Va.
• Information: To book a cruise during the festival, visit: www.FestivalofRiverboats.com.
She continued, “She is the only authentic steamboat left from the steamboat era. She has lived longer than anyone thought she would live. The Belle operates like she did 100 years ago.”
The Belle of Louisville holds the honor of being the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world and the last one built as a packet boat. When built in 1914 in Pittsburgh, the riverboat was originally named the Idlewild.
As the Idlewild, the riverboat operated for a time as a passenger ferry between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark. It hauled cotton, lumber and grain. The Idlewild arrived in Louisville in 1931.
Designed to be a ferry and day packet vessel, the Belle was also outfitted as an excursion boat. Chartered by the Rose Island Co., the boat ran trips between Fountain Ferry amusement park in downtown Louisville and Rose Island, a resort located 14 miles upriver from Louisville.
She was important during World War II as well. The steamboat was rigged with special equipment needed to push oil barges along the Ohio River. The Idlewild was used as a floating USO nightclub for troops stationed at military bases along the Mississippi.
The steamer was sold in 1947 and the name changed to the Avalon. It became one of the most widely traveled steamboats in the country. But by 1962, it was completely worn out.
She was placed on the auction block and purchased by Jefferson County Judge-Executive Marlow Cook with $34,000 in county funds.
After many hours of restoration, the steamer was christened the Belle of Louisville. The Belle of Louisville was named a National Historic Landmark on June 30, 1989.
The Belle is completely paddlewheel-driven with a steel hull that draws only five feet of water. For this reason, the boat was able to travel on every navigable inland waterway and earned the distinction of being the most widely traveled river steamboat in the nation.
Photo by Don Ward
Phillip Johnson, 28, is the assistant engineer on board the Belle of Louisville. His duties include firing and managing the boilers, which are still hand-fired by lighting a simple torch as opposed to being computer operated like most other passenger boats today.
Kadie Engstrom has had a 43-year career with the Belle. She started as a concessionaire, which led to a position as lead concessionaire. Then she became the Belle’s first female purser, the Belles’ first chief purser, and finally her current position of education coordinator and reservationist.
Engstrom gives as many presentations about the Belle as she can each year. “I truly enjoy watching the light bulb come on when I identify the importance of the steamboat during the steamboat era.” She is scheduled to give a presentation Oct. 7 at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Ind. (see related story, Page 26).
Photo by Don Ward
The Belle’s wooden paddlewheel is fascinating to watch as she pulls away from dock at Third Street in downtown Louisville.
“The steamboat came along at an amazing period of time in our country’s development,” said Engstrom. She believes the steamboat was a major technological invention at the time, and many other technological advancements in America followed its lead.
In its time, “the steamboat, especially the steam packet boat, was the economic force behind the development of our country, and it got lost in history,” Engstrom said. “I think it’s fascinating to know, and to help other people know, that at one time the steamboat was so important and yet so familiar that when the decline of the packet boat came about, giving way to the newer technologies of the steam towboat and railroads, she just faded away.”
Engstrom has written a short history of the Belle titled, “A Window to the Past, A Door to the Future” and a children’s story about the steamboat era leading up to the Belle titled, “She’s the Belle.” She has also created a children’s activity book that contains an educational element with each activity, “Steamboat Fun for Kids.”
Photo by Don Ward
Julie Hammel-Furlong, Chief
Purser for the past eight years on
the Belle of Louisville, directs passengers to their seats during
a recent cruise. The Belle has no kitchen aboard but offers a full lunch option that is provided by a local caterer.
There is quite a bit of river history in her book, “Pathway Through the Past, a Time Line of the Development of History in the Louisville Metropolitan Area.” Engstrom has penned various articles for books, magazines and newspapers as well.
She said it is important to tell others about this history and to keep it alive. “We cannot, as a society, hope to survive our future without knowing how our past has gotten us to where we are,” she said. “We are where we are today because of all that came before us.”
“During the Kentucky Derby week, it’s the Belle’s day to shine. But this festival will give us a whole week to shine.”
– Head Capt. Mark Doty
But sadly, “we take most of the accomplishments of people during the 18th to 20th century for granted, without realizing that their efforts brought us to the information era that we live in today.”
Born in North Dakota and raised in Colorado, Engstrom has resided in Kentucky for many years. “It’s essential that we know about and have an appreciation for the inventions that turned the tide, like the steamboat.”
History credits Robert Fulton with inventing the steamboat. But Engstrom said John Fitch “had put a steam-powered vessel on an American river in August 1787 – 20 years before Robert Fulton.”
Fitch was a Revolutionary War soldier and metal worker. It was not until long after he invented the first version of the steamboat that actually worked that he was declared the inventor of the steamboat, said Engstrom.
“Fulton used Fitch’s designs and the designs of other inventors to build his first steamboat in 1807,” she said. “It was not named the Clermont. Fulton named his first boat the North River Steamboat, since he was landing on the North River, later called the Hudson River.”
She said that Fitch “died before he could realize his own dream. I suspect when he died, he felt he had wasted his time on an invention that wasn’t fully appreciated in his own time. Its true importance didn’t come about until after 1811, when the first steamboat came down the Ohio River and opened up Western Expansion.”
Those who attend the Louisville Festival of Riverboats may not know or appreciate such history of these majestic vessels as much as they enjoy the nostalgic beauty of these colorful riverboats as they ply up and down the Ohio River, their pipes steaming and calliopes playing happy tunes in the breeze.
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