The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world. Though we know her today as the Belle of Louisville, she was originally named the Idlewild when she was built in 1914 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was designed to be a ferry and day packet vessel (for freight work), and was also outfitted for her later career as an excursion boat. Completely paddlewheel-driven with a steel hull that draws only 5′ of water, she was able to travel on virtually every navigable inland waterway, earning her the distinction of being the most widely traveled river steamboat in the nation. The Belle was named a National Historic Landmark on June 30, 1989.
The other two important components of the Belle operation are the The Spirit of Jefferson and Life-Saving Station #10, the Belle’s office boat that is also known as the Mayor Andrew Broaddus.
The Spirit of Jefferson’s journey began in 1963. She was built in Iowa by the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Company for Streckfus Steamers of St. Louis, Missouri. The boat cruised out of New Orleans as the Mark Twain from 1963 to 1970. After that, she made her way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. There, she was renamed the Huck Finn. For 25 years, she offered dinner and sightseeing cruises from just below the St. Louis Arch.
In December of 1995, after a three year search for the right riverboat, Jefferson County Judge/Executive David L. Armstrong found and purchased the Huck Finn.
The following year, Judge Armstrong’s office conducted a contest to rename the boat, and more than 3,000 entries were received. The Huck Finn became the Spirit of Jefferson in April of 1996. Her name honors her home county and the great Thomas Jefferson.
Along with the historic Steamer Belle of Louisville, the Spirit is owned by Louisville Metro Government and operated by the Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation. With her charm, spunk, and flexibility, the Spirit of Jefferson makes for wonderful memories along the Ohio River. She has the look and feel of an old-time steamboat, with the modern conveniences of heat, air conditioning, and more.
Life-Saving Station #10 is a lifesaving station built by the United States Life-Saving Service located in Louisville, Kentucky. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989. It resides on the wharf at River Road and Fourth Street. LSS #10 was later renamed The Mayor Andrew Broaddus in honor of a former mayor of Louisville.
LSS #10’s historic purpose was to house rescue crews to rescue those who fell victim to the rapids of the Falls of the Ohio. Louisville was the first place where a lifesaving station was placed in western waters. The first life station was placed on the river in Louisville in 1881 and has had a presence there ever since.
LSS #10 was built in 1929 in Dubuque, Iowa. It has a steel hull, and is 98 feet (30 m) long, a beam of 38 feet (12 m), a Hold Depth of 5 feet (1.5 m), and has 623 Net Tons. It has two decks, and a 15-foot-tall (4.6 m) lookout tower. It has much of its original interior fabric, and is considered in good condition.
It is the only floating lifestation and the last inland waterway lifestation for the United States Coast Guard still in existence, and one of the few reminders that the U.S. Life-Saving Service ever existed. It currently serves as the docking boat, ticket office, and offices for the staff and crew of the Belle of Louisville.