The Belle Of Louisville

Great_Steamboat_Race_Belle_of_Louisville_(BOL)
Hi my name is B. Jones I’m a former Louisville cab driver. Out of all the places that I’ve taken people, the Belle of Louisville has to be one of the most interesting and definitely the most beautiful!!!
The Belle of Louisville is owned and operated by the city of Louisville in Kentucky and is docked at it’s downtown location next to Riverfront Plaza/Belvedere.

The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating steamboat in the world. Though she’s known today as the Belle of Louisville, she was originally named the Idlewild when she was built back in 1914. She was built by James Rees and Sons Company in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for the West Memphis Packet Company. The Idlewild was first put into service on October 18th, 1914 on the Allegheny river.

The Idlewild was designed to be a ferry and day packet vessel (for freight work) and was also set up for her later career as an excursion boat. Constructed with an all steel superstructure and asphalt main deck, the steamboat is said to hold the all time record in her class for miles traveled, years in operation and number of places visited.
She was able to travel every navigable inland waterway, earning her the distinction of being the most widely traveled river seamboat in the nation. The Belle of Louisville was registered in the national register of historic places in 1972 and on June 30th,1989 and was named a national historic landmark.

As the Idlewild she operated as a passenger ferry between Memphis Tennessee and West Memphis Arkansas, she also hauled cargo such as cotton,lumber and grain. She first came to Louisville in 1931 and ran trips between Fountain Ferry amusement park (no longer in existence) near downtown Louisville and Rose Island Resort about 14 miles upriver from Louisville.

The Idlewild operated a regular excursion schedule from 1934 through world war two. During the war she was outfitted with special equipment to push oil barges along the river. She also served as a floating U.S.O. nightclub for troops stationed at military bases along the Mississippi river.

After the war in 1947, the Idlewild was sold to J. Herod Gorsage and was renamed the Avalon which was the death bed wish of Capt. Ben Winters. Capt. Ben Winters had a heart attack in the wheel house of the Idlewild and shortly after died in the captains quarters. Rumor is that the Captain still haunts the boat to this day. A former employee said that one night, while staying late to do paperwork, that the Captain appered in front of him. Only for a few seconds, but I guess that’d be enough, right. I don’t know about you, but I would consider it to be an added bonus if I was on a cruise and the Captain appeared lol…

So now known as the Avalon, the steamboat would make regular trips along the major rivers of the south,east and midwest. By 1962 the Avalon had fallen into disrepair and might have seen the end of her days, when Jefferson county Judge Marlow Cook bought her at an auction for $34,000 dollars.

She then came to Louisville and was rechristened and the Belle Of Louisville was born.

The Belle then underwent major restorations, the work on the boat was supervised by marine architect Alan L,Bates now, Capt. Bates. Prior to the auction, the boats hull had been condemned as unfit by the U.S.Coastguard. Concrete patches had added much weight to the already damaged hull, as had many years of accumulated modiifications to the decks and fittings of her superstructure. These were stripped and repaired in dry dock or removed by volunteers.

What remained was cleaned, surface prepared and supplied with new finish carpentry and painted in a style consistent with the boats 20th century origins. On April 30th, 1963 the Belle of Louisville took her first cruise, it was in a race against the Cincinnati steamboat the Delta Queen.

The race was the beginning of an unparalleled river tradition. To this day on the Wednsday before the Kentucky derby the Belle of Louisville and another steamboat which was usually the Delta Queen, until 2009 when she was retired and he Belle of Cincinnati took her place in the competition. Known as the great steamboat race it has become a very important part of the Kentucky Derby Festival, even though at first the Kentucky Derby Festival officials were reluctant to make the boat race part of the festivities.

It seems that in old times a “boat race” referred to a horse race that was won by cheating, but luckily they got over that and we get to see both. I have found the results of all the races since 1963 here they are:

Results
1963
Delta Queen

1964
Belle of Louisville

1965
Delta Queen

1966
Delta Queen

1967
N/A
High water led to race cancellation.

1968
Delta Queen

1969
Belle of Louisville

1970
Belle of Louisville

1971
Belle of Louisville

1972
Belle of Louisville

1973
Delta Queen

1974
Delta Queen

1975
Belle of Louisville

1976
Julia Belle Swain

1977
Delta Queen

1978
Delta Queen

1979
Belle of Louisville

1980
Belle of Louisville

1981
Belle of Louisville

1982
Natchez-New Orleans
Three-boat race

1983
Belle of Louisville

1984
Delta Queen
Belle of Louisville received a bomb threat and had to pull into Cox’s Park, evacuating 613 passengers.

1985
Delta Queen

1986
Delta Queen

1987
Belle of Louisville

1988
Belle of Louisville

1989
Delta Queen

1990
Delta Queen

1991
Belle of Louisville

1992
Delta Queen

1993
Belle of Louisville

1994
Delta Queen

1995
Belle of Louisville

1996
Belle of Louisville
Race shortened due to high water levels on the Ohio.[9]

1997
Delta Queen

1998
Belle of Louisville

1999
Spirit of Jefferson

2000
Belle of Louisville

2001
Delta Queen

2002
Belle of Louisville
Belle of Cincinnati “initially won”, but was disqualified when “it was found out” that it was diesel powered, and thus not a steamboat.

2003
Delta Queen
three boat race

2004
Belle of Louisville

2005
Belle of Louisville
Delta Queen was unable to come to Louisville due to high water levels on the Ohio.

2006
Delta Queen

2007
Belle of Louisville
The Delta Queen arrived at the finish line ahead of the Belle by 1.5 boatlengths, but because the Queen turned before it got to its turnaround buoy, the Belle was given the victory.

2008
Delta Queen
The Belle of Louisville arrived at the finish line ahead of the Delta Queen, but because the Belle turned before it got to its turnaround buoy, the Queen was given the victory. 3 Boat Race.

2009
Belle of Louisville
Belle of Cincinnati replaced Delta Queen, which has been retired.

2010
Belle of Cincinnati
Score: 60 – 99

2011
Belle of Louisville
High waters on the The Ohio River forced the race to be postponed to June 29, 2011. The Belle of Cincinnati was renamed The Belle of Kentucky, and, accordingly, she flew a Kentucky Wildcats banner covering “Belle of Cincinnati”, adding a UofL/UK rivalry flavor to the race (seeing as the owners of The Belle of Cincinnati are UK fans) as a means to increase interest in the event being held outside of the traditional time of year, The Kentucky Derby Festival.

2012
Belle of Louisville
three boat race including the American Queen

Here’s an interesting little piece of information about the boat, in 1997 the belle was partially sunk at her moorings. A former crew member of the boat was convicted of sabotage. The former employee was ordered to serve 30 months in a federal prison,pay $987,818.32 in restitution and a one hundred dollar fine.

The proximate cause of the sinking was flooding of the hull via a city’s waterline left connected to a fitting that led into the boats hull. Thanks to the swift action of the steamers crew and members of the community the boat was rescued,repaired and returned to service in seven short months.

For information on Dinner Tours and Event Bookings go to: www.belleoflouisville.org/

So if you need a Louisville taxi to go to the Belle of Louisville or home after a night on the town or anywhere else for that matter, call Paul’s Taxi Service, you’re sure to get a clean, on time cab with a courteous,friendly driver, so give Paul a call.

(812)697-5296