Address: 401 W. River Road (4th & River Road)
Since her berth in 1914, the Belle of Louisville has taken over 7 million people for a cruise on America’s inland waterways. The Belle is America’s last true Mississippi river steamboat still in operation, and the oldest still in operation — she turned 100 years old in October 2014! Find out how you can cruise aboard this National Historic Landmark by checking the Belle’s event calendar. All aboard!
Since 2005, the Waterfront Development Corporation has managed the Belle of Louisville for its owner, Louisville Metro. The Belle’s CEO is John Boyle, who manages all business affairs for the Belle. Captain Mark Doty is in charge of the vessel.
The Belle was acquired by Jefferson County Judge Executive Marlow Cook for $34,000 in 1963, and since that time she has become a priceless icon of the city. The Belle of Louisville was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She celebrated her 100th birthday in 2014.
The information presented here was developed by Belle of Louisville staff. For more about the Belle and information on cruises, visit www.BelleOfLouisville.org.
The Steamboat in History
From 1811, when the first steamboat came down the Ohio River, packet or freight steamboats were the force behind the development of the country. As railroads and roads improved, the need for river travel lessened, and by the 1930’s, packet boats were nearly extinct.
Packets were the workhorses of the river, carrying everything that could be transported by water — livestock, wagons, farm products, lumber, cotton, and household goods, to those who were settling the country and building farms and towns. They carried pioneers, homesteaders, and adventurers from the East Coast to the far West.
Steamer Belle of Louisville
The Steamer Belle of Louisville is the only remaining operating steamboat in the US that was built as a day packet boat. In the early 1930’s, she transitioned into daily excursion trade, which remains her mission to this day.
Built as the Idlewild (above) in 1914 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and renamed the Avalon in 1948, the Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating steamboat of her kind in the nation.
Features of the Belle
The Pilot House still has the Idlewild’s original 7′ maple wheel which dates back to 1914. The Belle also has a steam-powered steering system operated with a brass stick that sits in front of the wheel. Pilots steer the Belle today just as they would have over a hundred years ago.
The paddlewheel is about 17′ in diameter and is the Belle’s only propulsion. The engines on the main deck are attached to the paddlewheel shaft with pitman arms. The bucket planks on the wheel are 24′ long and are made of hard white oak.
In the 19th century, boats were built with either sidewheels or sternwheels. Today, all six of the operating river steamboats in the US have sternwheels, just like the Belle’s.
Belle’s engine room
Two engines (both built in the late 1800’s) turn the paddlewheel, one on each side of the engine room. The engines work in tandem to turn the paddlewheel in an even rhythm. Engineers change gears by hand in the Belle’s engine room just as they did when the boat was built. Piping close to the ceiling carries steam between the boilers and the engines and other equipment. Steam under pressure provides the energy to turn the paddlewheels, light the lights, and run the motors. The Belle’s three boilers hold 6200 gallons of water.
Lifesaving Station #10
The national Lifesaving Service was established in 1848 to aid in rescuing boats and passengers along the coastal the first LSS#10waterways. By the 1870’s, the service was put in place for inland waters, and a three-man team of volunteers served as the rescue team in Louisville, which saved passengers and cargo endangered by the Falls of the Ohio. In 1881, Lifesaving Station #10 was brought to Louisville. LSS#10 was the first inland lifesaving station. It has been reported that by the turn of the century, more than 7000 people and as much as $6 million in cargo was rescued by the boatment of LSS#10. The first two LSS#10’s (picture of #1 above) were built of wood, and they had to be replaced in 1902 and 1929. The current LSS#10 (picture below) has a steel hull and was built in Dubuque, Iowa.
The current LSS#10 was built in 1929. In 1989, LSS#10 was named a National Historic Landmark. She has served as the wharfboat for the Belle of Louisville since the early 1980’s, and is the only remaining inland Lifesaving Station in the country.
For additional information on the Belle of Louisville and Lifesaving Station #10 or for schedule and ticket information, call 502.574.2992 or visit www.BelleOfLouisville.com.