Steamboating in New Orleans
April 10, 2012
By Tim Rubacky, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Product Development
If you’ve followed this blog, our Facebook page, recent media reports or visit our website regularly, then you know that the inaugural reintroduction voyage of the American Queen is this Friday. For the first time in a long time, an authentic steam-powered riverboat will return to American river cruising. Significantly, she will embark her first passengers in New Orleans. Few cities are as associated with riverboats as much as New Orleans and we are proud to once again be a part of this great city’s history.
Let me be clear that back in the heyday of the riverboats in the 19th century, cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Natchez and Memphis (among others) were bastions of the mighty steamboats. But as the decades passed, the general public seems to have linked riverboats and New Orleans more than any other combination.
Fittingly, New Orleans was not only the destination of the first steamboat on Western rivers but also the name of the vessel as well. The New Orleans began a long, arduous journey from Pittsburgh to New Orleans on October 20, 1811 and survived the wilds of the frontier, including the largest earthquake in American history near New Madrid, Missouri that winter, before arriving in her namesake city on January 10, 1812, a journey of nearly three full months! After a celebratory greeting, she went into regular service between New Orleans and Natchez and the Crescent City’s place in steamboating history was secure (not to mention, Natchez, as well!)
Of course, New Orleans became a hub for steamboats in the same way that Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Denver are airline hubs today. In the case of New Orleans, it was in the perfect location. Goods from throughout America’s heartland could make the trip down the Mississippi and her tributaries and then be transshipped to ocean-going vessels at the Port of New Orleans to complete their voyage to some far-flung destination. New Orleans was the Hartsfield International Airport of her day - but without the TSA pat-downs!
steamboats that filled the Mississippi River in
New Orleans 150 years ago.
New Orleans was the site of the beginning of many great steamboat races, including the classic contest between the Robert E. Lee and the Natchez in 1870 when the Lee bested the Natchez by a few hours on a race all the way to St. Louis.
It was in New Orleans that the legendary Delta Queen arrived after her tow through the Panama Canal from San Francisco in 1947 to begin her second life as a Mississippi River steamboat for Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati, another historic riverboat city. When Greene Line took on the name Delta Queen Steamboat Company and built the Mississippi Queen, after her naming ceremony in Louisville and boarding guests in Cincinnati, the Mississippi Queen promptly left on her 18-night maiden voyage to, you guessed it, New Orleans.
New Orleans is intertwined with the history of the American Queen as well. She was originally built 90 miles west of New Orleans at the McDermott Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana in 1995. Her delivery voyage ended in New Orleans where she was named with the world’s largest bottle of Tabasco sauce (a gesture not entirely appreciated by the marine life of the Mississippi River). From New Orleans, she embarked on her maiden voyage, a 16-night journey to Pittsburgh retracing the route of the New Orleans in 1811-1812.
Today, the grand American Queen sits at the wharf in New Orleans preparing for her re-entry into service in just three short days. On Friday, she will board guests at the Riverwalk Marketplace complex next to the soaring Hilton Hotel, once the site of a steamboat landing from years gone by.
As the American Queen returns to Mississippi River voyages, she does so from a city steeped in riverboat history. From the jazz and blues to the French Quarter to the Cajun and Creole cuisine, there’s no place quite like New Orleans. And thanks to some of the city’s spirit which has infused the pride of the American Queen Steamboat Company, there’s nothing quite like the American Queen.
Long live the Queen!