ASME-Landmark:Belle of Louisville


As river steamboats dominated commerce and transportation in the early 1900s, the West Memphis Packet Company ordered a new steamboat from the yard of James Reese and Sons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1914. This new steamboat was to serve as a day packet, excursion boat, and ferry. Christened Idlewild on October 18, 1914, the steamboat's first homeport was Memphis. With a solid steel hull and iron superstructure, rather than wood, the Idlewild was less susceptible to destruction by ice—and drawing only 5 feet of water, it was able to travel virtually every navigable waterway.

In subsequent years, Idlewild became the Avalon and was used as far south as New Orleans and as far north as Minnesota. Avalon was operating as the last tramp excursion boat in the 1950s—but ultimately, financial difficulties forced the Avalon's owners to give up the boat, which was sold at auction in 1962 and purchased by Judge Marlow Cook for Jefferson County Fiscal Court. With financial help from the City of Louisville, Avalon was put back into service.

April 30, 1963 marked the beginning of a new tradition as the now-Belle of Louisville faced off against the Delta Queen in the now renowned Kentucky Derby Festival. Today, the steamboat, the oldest operating "western rivers" steamboat, is owned by the Louisville Metro Government and plays an important part in the cultural and historical heritage of the City of Louisville and the entire region. See ASME website for more information