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History In Our Own Backyard

The Belle of Louisville Celebrates 100!

Louisville, Kentucky   October 14-17, 2014

Photos by Jim and Kathy Cummings


From the time the first steamboat paddled up the Ohio River in 1811 to 2014 the slow pace and romantic look of the paddlewheelers has always drawn folks to the riverbanks. In their early years they were transportation that stopped at every wharf and carried passengers near and far. The sounds of the whistle and often the calliope called the town’s people to cluster along the bank to see what the boat had brought to their town.

In 1914 a boat christened the Idlewild first plied the river system. She was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was designed to be a ferry and day packet vessel (for freight work), and was also outfitted for her later career as an excursion boat. Completely paddlewheel-driven with a steel hull that draws only 5' of water, she was able to travel on virtually every navigable inland waterway, earning her the distinction of being the most widely traveled river steamboat in the nation. She continued her career named the Avalon, through the 1940’s often doing USO shows and dance cruises through the World War II era. During those years her home port was Louisville, KY. After spending much of the 1950’s and early 60’s as a cruise boat the Avalon went on the auction block in 1962.

The Belle was purchased by Jefferson County, Kentucky (Louisville) and renamed The Belle of Louisville. For her 100 Year Anniversary Steamboats from other areas joined the Belle for the Celebration. These boats were The American Queen, The Belle of Cincinnati, The Spirit of Peoria, The River Queen and The Spirit of Jefferson. Although the week long celebration was plagued with heavy rains early in the week, the sun came out for the weekend and the city came out to celebrate. 

The Belle of Louisville

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The Participating Steamboats

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