Historic steamboat was Memphis', but now is Belle of Louisville

belle.jpg One of the world's oldest steamboats -- one that started out ferrying people between Memphis and West Memphis -- is being refurbished today ahead of its 95th birthday.

As part of Hampton Hotels' Save-A-Landmark program, volunteers from the lodging chain are painting, polishing, cleaning and doing other tasks to preserve the historical significance of the Belle of Louisville, which the press release calls "the oldest continuously operated Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world."

(T)he Belle has traveled far and wide while constantly adapting to new roles as the times changed. Built in 1914, the Belle, originally named the Idlewild, spent her early years as a ferry between Memphis, TN and West Memphis, AR. She was made to haul cargo, but this versatile vessel could also handle excursions and traveled from state to state through the Mississippi River systems. The Belle also had a brief military career during World War II towing oil barges along the river by day and bringing fun to the troops as a floating U.S.O. club by night. The boat was sold in 1947, and the owner changed her name from the Idlewild to the Avalon, which remained for the next 13 years.

Now, about that name, as some of us native Memphians might consider it sacrilege to rechristen a Memphis vessel after our rival city on the Ohio River:

In 1962, the city of Louisville bought the vessel and did major repairs to its worn exterior and donned it with the name Belle of Louisville.

The Belle was made a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and is on the National Register for Historic Places. She continues to be owned by the Louisville Metro government and is operated by the Waterfront Development Corporation. Today, the Belle spends her days taking passengers along the Ohio River.

Closer to home, Hampton's Save-A-Landmark program last year brought volunteers to Memphis including actor Samuel L. Jackson to spruce up the Lorraine Motel facade of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Also, remember that the Hampton brand was originally owned by Memphis-based Promus Hotel Corp. before Promus sold out to Hilton in the late 1990s.


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