Riverboat Christening

City of Louisville buys riverboat to replace its aging ‘Spirit’ boat

Georgia Queen has been refurbished,
renamed Mary Miller

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (August 2017) – The Mary M. Miller steamboat took its maiden cruise under its new name on July 20 in a soft opening and christening on the Ohio River in Louisville. The new addition to the Belle of Louisville operation, a riverboat formerly known as the Georgia Queen, was named in honor of Mary Millicent Miller, who was the first woman in the United States to receive a steamboat master’s license.
The new boat, formerly the Georgia Queen, which arrived in Louisville on April 29, has undergone several weeks of rehabilitation by the Belle of Louisville crew, including painting, woodwork repair and upgrading the restroom on the main floor to be handicap accessible. It is a diesel-powered boat with a false paddlewheel.

Photos provided

The newly acquired Georgia Queen has been renamed for Louisvillian Mary Miller, who   was the nation’s first woman to obtain a steamboat master’s license.

The name was suggested via email to the Waterfront Development Corp. by an anonymous Louisville resident, officials said. The corporation oversees the Belle of Louisville and Mary Miller boats. Executive Director David Karem says the corporation has the authority to name the boat, but the name also was endorsed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and officials at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The 32-year-old boat can carry 535 passengers for sightseeing and 240 for dining. It will join the Belle in offering dinner cruises and special events.
Belle of Louisville Capt. John Boyle said he expects the boat has at least 30 more years of life in her.
“Depending on how it is maintained, it could last a long time,” said Boyle, a Wisconsin native who began working for the Belle nearly three years ago. “I was impressed with just how well it has been taken care of. The hull is in fantastic shape. We did some minor upgrades to the main deck and second deck, but it was just cosmetic things like painting and cleaning. We also added a handicap-accessible restroom to the main deck.”
Boyle said he was not impressed with the name at first, but after Karem explained the significance of Mary Miller to Louisville, Boyle said “it makes sense.”
“We don’t have a lot of monuments to honor women in this city, so this made a lot of sense. And the fact she was from the Portland area makes it an even better story.”
The city of Louisville purchased the boat last spring for $750,000 to complement the Belle and replace the aging Spirit of Louisville, which took its final cruise July 12. The Spirit, which accommodated 330 sightseeing passengers and 120 dining, will be sold, officials said.
The Miller has begun making regular cruises at least five days a week, replacing the voyages that previously belonged to the Spirit. The three-deck Miller also is large enough to hold two simultaneous private events, officials said.
The Waterfront Development Corp. manages the vessels for Louisville Metro Government.
Miller was born in 1846 in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville to Andrew Garretson, a steamboat engineer, who taught her the ropes.
The 19th century world of steamboating was often a rough and tumble place. Steamboat passengers of this era frequently carried concealed weapons and brawled regularly. Boatmen were often a hearty, hard-edged lot of men. It took a stern and decisive captain to keep the whole operation working effectively. In Victorian America, steamboats were not deemed to be the ideal place for a woman. Proper society determined that women in this time period were supposed to be pious, domestic individuals, who avoided such unlady-like atmospheres.
Miller officially became a part of this man’s world in 1884 when she acquired her steamboat license. However, Miller had long before become accustomed to river and steamboat life. Born in 1846, Miller had grown up around the river world and steamboating. Her father introduced her to life on the river as a steamboat engineer, and she and her husband, George, operated a steamboat named the “Saline” on the lower Mississippi and Red Rivers.
When the Millers’ steamboat business came under fire from competitors who alleged that George was serving as both pilot and captain, an illegal offense, George explained that he served as pilot and Mary was the captain. The competitors still complained that Mary was not licensed as a captain, so, in 1884, she took the required tests, passed, and received her official license.
The Millers plied the waters of the lower Mississippi River as husband and wife for almost another decade before George retired to the Portland neighborhood of Louisville. Sadly, on a trip to New Orleans aboard their sailboat the “Swan,” Mary became sick. She died on October 30, 1894, and was buried in the Portland Cemetery.
The Portland Museum has a permanent animatronic display of Captain Miller at its facility at 2308 Portland Ave.

• For more information, visit www.BelleofLouisville.org.

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