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THE BELLE OF LOUISVILLE,
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I received this note Sunday, Feb. 28, 2000.
Let's give Allen and the "BELLE" all the support we can!
Riverboat Dave.

In Saturday's newspaper it was announced that the city and county plan to
retire the BELLE of LOUISVILLE, and make her a museum!! Please let other
river people know about this and tell them if they have questions to E Mail
me and or write me for more info.
Allen Dale
631 Barret Ave.
Louisville, KY 40204
Ph.502-584-0965
CKsR4me@aol.com

Official Web Site for the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE
BELL OF LOUISVILLE
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Construction and Career of Belle of Louisville

National Historic Landmark Study

by Kevin Foster, 1989


This article borrowed from this Historic Landmark Study

The West Memphis Packet Company ordered a new steamboat from the yard of James Rees and Sons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1914. She was to serve as a day packet, excursion boat, and ferry. On October 18, 1914, the steamboat was christened Idlewild, and was launched from the Rees yard on the banks of the Allegheny River. The new boat was completed early in 1915 and she departed for her first home port, Memphis, on January 8, 1915. [16]

 

Belle of Louisville as Idlewild at Memphis, 1915. Photo courtesy Belle of Louisville Operating Board.

 


 

 

Belle of Louisville as Idlewild at Memphis, 1916. Photo courtesy Belle of Louisville Operating Board.

 

Idlewild operated primarily as a ferry between Memphis and Hopefield Point, Arkansas. Emblazoned on her pilothouse below her name, Idlewild carried the motto "Safety First." She could only take a small number of vehicles on to her restricted foredeck and alongside her boilers but on excursion trips the Steamboat Inspection Service allowed her to carry up to 1600 passengers. The company changed the schedule to allow Idlewild to substitute for the well known Kate Adams. The ferry business at Memphis ended when a bridge joined the shores she served and Idlewild was sold on November 7, 1925, to the Tri-State Ferry Company of Cairo, Illinois. The Tri-State Ferry Company used her for ferry service between Cairo and Bird's Point, Missouri. Tri-State sent their new boat down to New Orleans in 1925 to compete with the bigger excursion boats of the Streckfus Company, but four big excursion boats made the same trip south and "none made any money." They sent her to St, Louis the next season for work on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers. In 1931, she was chartered to the Rose Island Company.[17]

By 1928, this ferry route and the packet trade had dried up, and the excursion business was not enough to support a boat there. Idlewild was sold to the New St. Louis and Calhoun Packet Company of Hardin, Illinois. The new owners ran Idlewild mainly on the Ohio carrying excursion parties and occasionally produce. In the hard times prevalent on the river in the early 1930s, the versatility that made her a maid-of-all-work allowed Idlewild to survive. A new type of service was also added to her repertoire, when she performed barge towing contracts, when not employed with excursion work. Most of the excursion work was done during the warm months from Louisville, Kentucky, but some "tramping" trips were made as well, in search of excursion business away from home.

The Second World War brought more towing jobs providing badly needed oil in barges to various points on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1945, Idlewild received a new paddlewheel shaft at the Frisbee Engine and Machine Company of Cincinnati.[18]

In April, 1947, Idlewild was sold to J. Herod Gorsage of Peoria, Illinois. He renamed Idlewild in February, 1948 to grant the death-bed wish of his good friend, Captain Ben Winters, who had worked on a previous Avalon. Mr. Gorsage sent Avalon tramping for excursion business west to Omaha, Nebraska, south to New Orleans, north to Stillwater, Minnesota, and Joliet, Illinois, and west to Charleston, West Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

Mr. Gorsage sold Avalon in 1950, to E.A. Meyer of Cincinnati, who ran her under an operating company, Steamer Avalon, Inc.. This company operated Avalon on the same sort of strenuous tramping excursion trips as had Mr. Gorsage. They made improvements to make the boat more attractive and comfortable to passengers. These included a 33 by 96 foot maple dance floor and enclosing the main, and boiler decks to allow a longer operating season. The stacks were shortened about 10 feet and the pilothouse dome was removed to allow operation beneath bridges high up the head waters of rivers in 17 states.[19]

Further modifications allowed Avalon to operate as the last tramp excursion boat in the 1950s. In 1953, the Texas was shortened 30 feet to reduce unneeded topside weight. The boilers were switched to oil fuel from coal in the same year. In 1954, sponsons were added to the hull to offset the added weight of enclosing the topsides by increasing the buoyancy and stability.[20]

Financial difficulties forced the Steamer Avalon company to turn the boat over to a printing company which was the major creditor and the boat was laid up for the winter. Her captain at that time, Captain Clarke `Doc' Hawley, hired an engine room hand "from his own pocket" to drain the pipes and boilers. This action probably saved the machinery from serious damage during the winter freeze. The company filed bankruptcy proceedings in February, 1962, and Avalon was sold at auction, May 24, 1962.[21]

The purchaser was Judge Marlo Cook, for the Jefferson County Fiscal Court, who bought her over objections by some taxpayers. Jefferson County now owned an expensive steamboat in need of work, but with financial help from the City of Louisville, Avalon was put back in service. The Jeffersonville boat and Machine Company reconditioned her in their yard, across from Louisville, from August to October 14, 1962. On that day she was rechristened Belle Of Louisville before a crowd of 3,000.

One of the most important annual activities was begun on June 5, 1962, when Belle raced Delta Queen during the celebrations surrounding the Kentucky Derby. She lost to the tune of "Goodbye Little Girl Goodbye" on the calliope of Delta Queen and a racing tradition was begun. In 1965 Belle was given new boilers to increase her speed, but they failed to live up to their billing and were soon replaced with traditional boilers. In the years since the races began, the golden elkhorns have been about evenly awarded to each of the two boats with tremendous hoopla surrounding the event no matter which boat wins.[22]

Today, Belle of Louisville, plays an important part in the cultural and historical heritage of the City of Louisville and in the entire region, where she is regarded with particular affection. Belle is also of great importance as the sole remaining example of her type, which played an important part in America's westward expansion.


To BELLE'S Present Physical Appearance and Statistics

Notes

1. Norman J. Brouwer, International Register of Historic Ships (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985) p. 211 and p. 225.

2. Francis S. Philbrick, The Rise of the West: 1754-1860 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965) pp.312-315.

3. Leland D. Baldwin, The Keelboat Age on Western Waters (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of pittsburgh Press, 1980) p.41.

4. Baldwin, op. cit., pp. 42-44 and pp. 50- 51.

5. Ibid., pp. 175-177.

6. Philbrick, Op. cit. pp. 313-314.

7. Baldwin, op. cit., pp. 44-46.

8. Jean Baptiste Marestier, Memoir on Steamboats of the United States of America (Mystic, Connecticut: The Marine Historical Association, Inc. 1957) pp.1-19, 54-57.


9. "Preventive Safety," Commandant's Bulletin (Washington, D.C., U.S. Coast Guard publication, Aug. 4, 1988) p.32.

10. John H. Morrison, History of American Steam Navigation (New York: Stephen Daye Press, 1958) pp. 207-209.

11. Alan L. Bates, The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium (Leonia, New Jersey, Hustle Press, 1968) passim.

12. Jerome E. Petsche, The Steamboat Bertrand: History, Excavation, and Architecture (Washington, DC: National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1974) pp. 1-5.

13. Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp. 105-107.

14. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

15. Ibid., pp. 4-7.

16. Frederick Way, Jr., Way's Packet Directory, 1848 - 1994
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1983) p. 222.

17. David Tschiggare, "BELLE OF LOUISVILLE Steams On," Steamboat Bill (Number 102, Summer, 1967) p.68 and Captain C.W. Stoll oral history interview with the author, October 21, 1988.

18. Tschigarre, "BELLE" pp. 68-69.

19. Ibid., p. 69 and Way, op. cit. p.34.

20. Tschigarre, "BELLE" p.69.

21. Stoll, op. cit.

22. Tschigarre, op. cit., pp.69-70 and Stoll, op. cit.

 


 

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