New Life On The Old River: Delta Queen Coming to St. Louis

St. Louis’ underutilized downtown riverfront is set to receive a big bump with news that the majestic Delta Queen steamboat will be arriving later this year as part of a “last-blast” river tour.

The Delta Queen moored at St. Louis’ downtown riverfront.

The vessel, which is listed both as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1926 in Dumbarton, Scotland before arriving in San Francisco for final assembly. It was later enlisted as a U.S. Navy vessel during World War II — the U.S.S. Delta Queen. She is currently moored in Chattanooga, TN.

St. Louis is one of twelve American ports which will be hosting the ship for three months each over a span of three years, highlighting the role of river travel in America and acting “as a kind of This Is Your Life¬†tribute for the ship herself.”

The plan, as presented by the Delta Queen Historical Society (an arm of Save the Delta Queen 2010, which successfully funded the ship’s purchase in 2010-11), is to send the ship to various cities, including San Francisco where it was finished, Pittsburgh where it received it’s most recent rehab, and several river ports like St. Paul, Cincinnati, Memphis and, of course, New Orleans.

During these stays, tours of the ship will be available, as will lessons/lectures on the country’s river-based history, and opportunities to stay aboard as a “passenger” in any of the Delta Queen‘s 88 cabins.

The sturdily-built sternwheel was decommissioned in 2008 due not to its age, but because of the maritime laws by which it had theretofore been exempt due to its Historic status.

The law in reference comes from SOLAS — the International Conference for Safety of Lives at Sea. While many of its regulations would combine to justify her dockage, Chapter II-2 (Construction – Fire Protection, Fire Detection and Fire Extinction), Part 3 (Suppression of Fire), Regulation 11 (Structural Integrity) was the determining factor.

The regulation reads that water-worthy vessels must be composed primarily of noncombustible materials such as steel, iron or aluminum. The 86-year-old Delta Queen is heavily wood-framed from cabin and deck to portions of her hull.

The Delta Queen Historical Society will be operating its three-year voyage under an ordinance which lifts this regulation for ships carrying less than 49 people. By this method, the ship can transport crew and select guests to different points of portage, at which time it ceases to be a traveling vessel and instead operates as an anchored “leisure and resort accommodation.”

St. Louis is scheduled to host the Delta Queen later this year, from mid-August to mid-November, sandwiched between a summer session in St. Paul and a winter home in New Orleans. DQHS warns that early reservation dates may be subject to change based on potential delays due to weather or water level.

With the decommissioning of the Delta Queen and her sister, the Mississippi Queen, only a few tier-one passenger steamboats operate along the Mississippi. At present, only the Spirit of Peoria (docked, obviously, in Peoria, IL) makes regular visits to St. Louis.

While this project is unaffiliated with the planning being done as part of City+Arch+River 2015, its progress will surely be followed closely by members of the organization. If a stationed steamboat hotel proves successful in the region, hopefully we will see a similar effort to install a permanent fixture here down the road — maybe even the Delta Queen herself!

The Delta Queen anchored as a hotel in Chattanooga, TN.

One comment

  1. Very funny. Note the date.

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