Madison was recently granted an audience with the Queen, no, not a visiting head of state,the American Queen!!
After a long,five year,absence the American Queen steamboat has returned to service and is once again steaming to Madison and ports beyond. Fresh off of a stem to stern remodel and refit and a re-christening ceremony where Priscilla Presley(yes,THAT Priscilla Presley),acting in her recently appointed role of ‘Godmother’ to the American Queen,christened the ship to mark her new beginning following the restoration and change in ownership.
(You can see video of the christening here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgCTCQ4aQX8&feature=related)
Said to be the largest steamboat ever built her stats seem to prove it:
length: 418 ft.
beam: 89 ft.
height: 109.5 ft.
draught: 8.f ft
She has 6 decks with a total of 222 state rooms allowing her to accommodate 436 guests and a crew complement of 160 on her trips up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Her keel was laid down in 1994 and she was launched in 1995 . The American Queen is a true steamboat,she has a 1927 steam powerplant which was originally installed in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredger ship ‘Kennedy’,she also is equipped with two diesel-electric powered Z-drives located on either side of the 79,000 pound bright,red paddlewheel at her stern. These Z-drives are used as a maneuvering assist and as an occasional speed/power boost.
This beautiful re-creation of a 19th century style steamer spent most of the last 5 years in a state of limbo due to her original owner,the Delta Queen Steamboat Company,who,facing financial difficulties following the decline in the travel industry caused by 9/11,shut down operations and sold off their boats Delta Queen,Mississippi Queen and the American Queen,which essentially put an end to overnight riverboat cruises along the Ohio River.
The American Queen is the last of the three ‘sister’ ships from The Delta Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet to still be in operation. The Delta Queen,due to the 1966 Safety of Life at Sea Law (read more about this law here:http://www.save-the-delta-queen.org/what-is-safety-of-life-at-sea-solas/) which outlawed vessels with a wooden superstructure from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers,has been reduced to being a floating museum in Chattanooga,Tennessee. The Mississippi Queen has been taken apart and sold as scrap.
The American Queen is a modern day link to our community’s past,a past when travel by boat wasn’t a novelty but rather a vital mode of transport for both people and goods. Workers came here to find jobs,settlers came here to find a place to call their own and cargos of all kinds were loaded and unloaded and bought and sold both here in Madison and all up and down the Ohio and other rivers.
A great many things have changed from the time of those early paddlewheelers to today’s pleasure boats that dock here. The boats no longer offload persons seeking employment or in search of the adventure of carving out a homestead from the wilderness and I can’t remember the last time a boat docked here to take on or offload cargo.
The decline of the steamboats followed the increase of other forms of transportation such as planes,trains and,of course,automobiles and has relegated these magnificent machines almost entirely to the history books but,thanks to The Great American Steamboat Company giving a new lease on life to the American Queen,people,here in Madison and many other towns along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers,will once again be able to welcome tourists travelling aboard the American Queen. These passengers spend their hard earned money here in Madison and the other other towns and cities they stop and visit,adding a much appreciated boost to the local economies by patronizing our shops and restaurants.
Those of us fortunate enough to have ridden on,or just observed from shore, either the American Queen or any of the very few steamboats that remain in operation have an understanding of just how charming they are and can appreciate the American Queen’s return.
If you missed her her when she was here earlier this month you’ll be able to see her again this coming July 12 when she returns for her final visit of the season.