The U.S. Senate has passed S.89, a bill to amend title 46 by an impressive vote of 85 to 12 bringing the Delta Queen one step closer to restoring overnight passenger service.
Bill S.89 will now move to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. If passed, this legislation will exempt the Delta Queen from the 1966 Safety at Sea Act (P.L. 89-777) which was intended to prohibit wooden cruise ships from carrying U.S. citizens overnight on oceans far from shore. The legendary riverboat, which in 1966 was the only overnight vessel operating on America’s inland rivers, has been barred from carrying overnight passengers since an exemption to the 1966 Safety at Sea Act for the vessel lapsed back in 2008.
Congress immediately passed a law following the 1966 Safety at Sea Act exempting the Delta Queen from the law which was approved nine times over the next 40 years. When the last exemption expired in 2008, the then owners failed to secure a renewal and the vessel became a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. from 2009 until 2014. In 2015, new owners bought the vessel with a mission to completely restore the historic icon and restore overnight passenger service.
In a release, Cornel Martin, President and CEO of The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, said: “Even before acquiring the vessel, we have been working with Congress to renew the exemption. The fact that the U.S. Senate would make time in their extremely busy schedule to consider this legislation is a testament to the importance of the Delta Queen to America’s history. This is a truly important step in our voyage to return the Delta Queen to cruising throughout America’s heartland and Deep South.”
The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is classified as a National Historic Landmark and has recently been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a National Treasure.
“The rich history that the Delta Queen will bring to our city perfectly complements our historic destination and will help to develop a greater awareness of Kimmswick,” said Mayor Philip D. Stang, City of Kimmswick. “We are extremely appreciative of the substantial economic impact the Delta Queen will bring to Kimmswick and to all of the ports along her route.”
The vessel’s return to America’s rivers will initiate millions of dollars in repair work, provide more than 175 permanent jobs aboard the vessel and in the company’s corporate headquarters and bring thousands of expected new visitors each year to more than 80 river towns and ports along the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, Kanawha, Illinois and Arkansas Rivers. The Delta Queen has provided overnight cruises safely on America’s rivers for more than 80 years.
“The Delta Queen is the last chance for us to provide Americans and international visitors alike the opportunity to see our great country from the decks of an authentic 1927 paddlewheel steamboat,” Martin stated.
The Delta Queen Steamboat Company has officially opened its corporate offices and Port of Call Restaurant, Lounge and Gift Shop in downtown Kimmswick, marking an important milestone in the vessels homeport city.
In a release, Leah Ann Ingram, Chief Operating Officer at Delta Queen Steamboat Co, said “It is deeply gratifying to us that throughout this process the City of Kimmswick, Jefferson County and many others have been tremendous partners, we thank you for your support. Moving forward we are completely committed to doing our part in supporting the economic development including the creation of quality jobs for the city and the region.”
The Delta Queen was recently named to National Trust’s 2016 11 Most Endangered List, which helps raise awareness of the threats facing some of the nation’s greatest treasures. The steamboat, which began service as an overnight passenger vessel in 1927, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and classified as a National Historic Landmark. The Delta Queen was purchased by the current owners in February 2015 with the goal to restore the vessel and return it to overnight cruise service. It is expected that the Delta Queen will begin and end a number of its cruises each year in Kimmswick and will visit more than 80 other ports in the United States.
“The opening of the Delta Queen offices and Port of Call Restaurant & Lounge in Kimmswick is deepening the positive impact the Delta Queen has already had on our historic riverboat town by creating more jobs for our residents and greater experiences for our visitors,” said Kimmswick Mayor Philip Stang.
The new Port of Call Restaurant & Lounge serves French-inspired American fare with a continental twist in a refurbished historic home built in 1772. Dining rooms throughout the restaurant are themed to coincide with the history of the Delta Queen as the establishment’s presence is helping preserve the historic vessel.
“Our overall goal is to offer visitors the full Delta Queen experience which will help preserve the history of this national treasure,” said Delta Queen Steamboat Company President and CEO Cornel Martin. “The interior beautifully represents the history and nostalgia of America’s last authentic steamboat, showcasing the elegance of her cabins and public spaces.”
In order for the iconic Delta Queen to cruise again, officials must first secure a Congressional Exemption to allow the vessel to return to the overnight cruise trade. The community may take action by urging lawmakers through the National Trust for Historic Preservation to support House Bill HR 1248, and Senate Bill S 1717. If Congress fails to pass this legislation, a remarkable piece of the Nation’s maritime history will be lost.
Historic Kimmswick “Where Yesteryear Becomes Today”
In 1859, a German dry goods merchant, Theodore Kimms, purchased about 160 acres of land from the widow of Captain George Waters. Kimms laid out the small town and named it after himself. The early German community was settled by wealthy families from St. Louis and immigrant stonecutters.
The town prospered early on due to easy access to railroad and river transportation. According to Nadine Garland, past President of the Kimmswick Historical Society, the early community of 1,500 was served by a post office, 4 schools, 2 train stations, a dentist and several doctors. “The town boasted a bank, hotel, flouring mill, iron works foundry, lumber mill and brewery. Many who settled in Kimmswick were stonemasons. They cut the limestones to build the Old Courthouse in St. Louis from the quarries surrounding Kimmswick,” said Garland. She noted that at one time there were 14 mineral springs in the area which were the source of salt used by the early American Indians.
After the turn of the century, the town was bypassed and almost forgotten with the coming of automobiles, Garland explained. Many historic buildings fell into decay and were torn down. The loss of boat and train traffic and the building of nearby Hwy 55 almost sealed the fate of Kimmswick.
However, in 1969, Lucianna Gladney Ross, led an energetic movement to save the town. An active Kimmswick Historical Society continues the effort of restoration and now has a museum in what was once the Kimmswick Bible Church at 3rd and Vine Streets.
During the “Great Flood of ’93”, the town of Kimmswick was saved through the efforts of thousands of volunteers and the National Guard who sandbagged and built the earthen levee. Today, the little town has a population of about 150 people who live and work in many original buildings that have been lovingly restored. Several “saved” historic log buildings have been moved from other areas and re-assembled to preserve history.
Visitors to Kimmswick can step back in time to spend a delightful afternoon browsing through numerous antique, artisans and collectibles shops.