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Mayor Greg Fischer Newsroom

Belle of Louisville Named National Steamship of the Year

Wednesday June 15, 2005

Mayor Jerry Abramson today announced that the Belle of Louisville was named the 2005 Steamship of the Year by the Steamship Historical Society of America, Inc.

“This national recognition confirms that the Belle is a treasure and an icon for our hometown,” Abramson said. “She will continue to provide entertainment and enjoyment for both residents and visitors to our community for years to come.”

The Steamship Historical Society awards the Ship of Year title to vessels that conform to high standards of preserving and disseminating the history of river navigation. The Belle is the oldest authentic Mississippi River-style sternwheel steamboat operating in America. Her steam machinery is original to the vessel and is more than 100 years old.

“The Belle is an historic vessel that has managed to stay in service for many years and still has very many years of use ahead of it,” said Chris Dougherty, board chair of the Steamship Historical Society.
A committee comprised of the society’s board members reviews nominations for the award and selects the winning ship.

Established in 1935, the Steamship Historical Society includes more than 3,400 members – amateur and professional historians interested in the history of steam navigation. The organization is a member of Heritage Harbor, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

Louisville Metro Government recently moved management and operation of the Belle under the Waterfront Development Corporation. Mayor Abramson proposed $400,000 in the next fiscal year budget to continue the vessel’s operation.

History of The Belle of Louisville T

he vessel today known as The Belle of Louisville was launched more than 90 years ago in Pittsburgh, Pa., and she is the last authentic Mississippi River style sternwheel steamboat operating in America. Her steam machinery is original to the vessel and is estimated to be over 100 years old. Known then as the Idlewild, the vessel received the steam machinery second hand from another unknown boat.

The Idlewild was built by the James Rees and Sons Co., for the West Memphis Packet Co. to serve as a ferryboat and part-time excursion boat at Memphis, Tenn. After a highway bridge was built connecting Tennessee and Arkansas and the trade the vessel was built for plied out, she was sold in 1928 to the New St. Louis and Calhoun Packet Corp., of Hardin, Ill. During this time, she was used for various purposes including hauling apples from the apple orchards of west central Illinois to market in St. Louis. In 1947, she was sold to J. Herod Gorsage of Peoria, Ill. Shortly after the sale, the vessel’s name was changed the Avalon.

Eventually she was laid up in a Louisiana bayou and offered for sale. A group of Cincinnati investors purchased her, in hopes of filling the trade that was recently vacated due to the demise of the Str. Island Queen. During her tenure with Steamer Avalon, Inc., she traveled from as far north as St. Paul, Minn., south as New Orleans, east as Pittsburgh and west as Omaha, Neb. In 1962, the Avalon was sold at a court-ordered bankruptcy sale to Jefferson County, Kentucky. It was soon determined that she would operate as a living museum in partnership with the City of Louisville.