Queens of the River

Steamboat passengers say Madison
is a favorite stopover on cruises

More visits added to schedule in 2004

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (June 2004) – About 60 second-graders from Scipio Elementary School anxiously boarded the Delta Queen steamboat during one of its stops in May in Madison, Ind. Their teacher, Angie Carnahan, had requested an impromptu tour of the vessel after a field trip to Clifty Falls State Park was unexpectedly canceled due to closed roads.

June 2004 cover

June 2004 Indiana cover

"They usually don’t do this – they are doing us a big favor,” Carnahan said, relieved to have something educational to occupy the children during their visit to Madison.
Not that educational opportunities in Madison are hard to come by, but the chance to tour a floating landmark doesn’t come along every day. Built in 1926 in Stockton, Calif., the Delta Queen was in 1970 listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1989 was officially designated a National Historic Landmark.
Operated as a ferry boat between San Francisco and Sacramento from 1927 to 1940, and used during World War II as a U.S. Navy yard ferry in San Francisco Bay, the Delta Queen was purchased in 1947 by the Greene Line Steamboat Co. It was brought from the Sacramento River to the Mississippi River by way of the Panama Canal, becoming the first riverboat to pass through the canal.
At 285 feet in length and 60 feet in width, the Delta Queen is the smallest of three steam-powered, paddlewheel riverboats now operated by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. of New Orleans. It and the company’s other two steamboats, the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen, can occasionally be seen anchored on the river in Madison. The American Queen, which is 418 feet long, 89 feet, four inches wide, and 97.5 feet tall (including its stacks), is the largest steamboat ever built, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Although it is the smallest of the three steamboats, the Delta Queen provides plenty of room for up to 174 passengers with four decks and 87 staterooms. Public areas include the Texas Lounge, which features a wood-paneled bar and gathering area, the Forward Cabin Lounge, which features a Victorian parlor complete with Tiffany-style stained glass windows and crystal chandeliers, the Betty Blake Lounge, which is a quiet retreat with paintings of figures from the Delta Queen’s history, and the Orleans dining room.
Outfitted in old-fashioned elegance with antique furnishings, the Queen may look like a remnant of the past but is actually high-tech when it comes to operating systems. GPS, radar, and as of May 20, an Automatic Identification System required by homeland security, are all part of the boat’s modern equipment, said Capt John Sutton, who piloted the boat into Madison on May 3. Other contemporary features include fire, smoke and heat detection systems as well as a sprinkler system.
The Delta Queen has made many trips up and down the Ohio and other rivers. Among its passengers have been President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, actress Helen Hayes and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Madison has for some time been included on the Delta Queen’s itinerary. Passengers seem to enjoy the town’s history and variety of interesting downtown shops. Many head toward Main Street with cameras in hand and return to the boat with shopping bags of souvenirs.
“I think our passengers enjoy Madison because it offers so many things for them to see,” Delta Queen Steamboat Co. marketing manager Lucette Brehm said by telephone from her office in New Orleans.
Downtown merchants also enjoy the riverboat’s travelers. “We think we see the people from the boats, by and large. We try to encourage them (to come in and shop),” said Madison Business and Professionals Association president Dennis Anderson. One way Anderson and other merchants have encouraged business from the riverboats is by drawing for a gift basket of items from various downtown stores. Travelers just stop by each participating store to register to win, and at the end of the day a name is drawn and the basket is given away on board the boat.
Because the steamboat travelers are often looking for souvenirs of Madison or books to read during their trips, Anderson stocks at his Cover to Cover Bookstore a variety of Madison postcards and souvenirs, and local interest books. Other downtown stores do the same.
Penny Estes of San Antionio, Texas, purchased fish candy from Mundt’s Candies and beaded necklaces from GG 1 Of A Kind Custom Jewelry during the steamboat’s May visit. Estes and husband, Grant, were traveling aboard the Delta Queen for the second time. “I’m a history buff, so I wouldn’t sail on anything but the National Historic Landmark,” said Estes, who owns The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast in San Antonio.
Another passenger, John Patrick, sat peacefully on the sun deck, while others wandered around downtown. Patrick, who happens to live in downtown Madison, was enjoying his second trip aboard the Delta Queen. “This boat’s authenticity is terrific,” said Patrick, who was visited in port by his daughter, Heather Adler, also of Madison.
Anderson said he often hears positive comments from the riverboat passengers. “They love (Madison), and they like the architecture and the fact that there’s a vibrant downtown,” he said. “They say that either they’ll come back or they wish they could spend a longer time here. We don’t think they’re saying that just to be kind.”
The Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen will make a combined 11 stops in Madison this year. In addition to staying as late as 4 p.m. (the boat generally departs at noon) for a couple of trips in August, the boats excursion activities also will be expanded. Added in Madison will be a motorcoach tour that will take passengers to visit the Schroeder Saddletree Factory, Madison Vineyards located on the hilltop and Mundt’s Candies.

• For more information about the Delta Queen and the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. visit www.deltaqueen.com.

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