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I received this note Sunday, Feb. 28, 2000.
Let's give Allen and the "BELLE" all the support we can!
Riverboat Dave.

In Saturday's newspaper it was announced that the city and county plan to
retire the BELLE of LOUISVILLE, and make her a museum!! Please let other
river people know about this and tell them if they have questions to E Mail
me and or write me for more info.
Allen Dale
631 Barret Ave.
Louisville, KY 40204

Official Web Site for the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE

Belle of Louisville

National Historic Landmark Study

by Kevin Foster, 1989

This article borrowed from this Historic Landmark Study

Belle of Louisville underway in Cincinanti in 1998. NPS photo by Kevin Foster.

From The James E. York Post Card Collection


Present Historic and Physical Appearance

Belle of Louisville is a riveted-steel, steam-powered, sternwheel- propelled, day packet and excursion boat. The superstructure is built of wood, and the hull is supported by a hogging truss system in the traditional manner of Western Rivers steamboats. Belle of Louisville's large sternwheel is propelled by a pair of single cylinder, non-condensing, reciprocating steam engines.

Belle of Louisville, built as the Idlewild in 1914 by James Rees and Sons, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the only remaining Western Rivers day packet boat. Idlewild began life serving as a ferry, day packet and occasional excursion boat. Today she only carries excursions. Over time she has been modified to meet the requirements of trade and of governmental agencies. Most of the original construction survives and modifications made for safety and accommodation do not detract from her integrity.[1]


Belle of Louisville was built of heavy steel plates, double-riveted to steel angle frames. She measured 157.5 feet long, 36 feet in beam, and 5 feet depth of hold.[2] The hull was fitted with a bluff, full bow, a flat bottom with no external keel, and a tucked-up run to the stern with rounded indentations to clear the three rudders. Belle was modified in 1953 to decrease her draft by adding bilge sponsons through most her length. In 1968, Belle had an additional 10 feet added forward to fair out the bow and smooth the transition with the bilge sponsons. [3] Internally, Belle is divided into 35 watertight compartments by the two side keelsons, and several athwartships bulkheads.

Like most Western Rivers steamboats, Belle's hull is supported by a truss system, which in effect makes the hull one large girder. Two rows of vertical I-beams rise from side keelsons (parallel to the center keelson,) and are tied to the hull and to each other by truss rods. These allow the buoyancy of the entire hull to support the weight of heavy fittings, such as the engines, and boilers.[4]


The superstructure consists of three decks: the main, on which the propelling machinery is located; the boiler deck above the boilers; and the texas roof with pilothouse atop. Belle was built with an open main deck except for the engine room aft. The removable bull rails between stanchions were replaced with pressboard panels and glass in 1953. The pressboard was replaced with sheet steel in 1968. Stanchions and framing for the boiler deck are built of steel.[5] Stanchions, decks and bulkheads of the upper decks are built of wood with steel truss-rod reinforcement.

The main deck has an open foredeck which extends aft to the curved partition which encloses the superstructure front. A double steam powered capstan is set in the middle of the foredeck. The single mast, mounted on the centerline, supports a boom and landing stage (gangway). Two large sliding doors, to port and starboard, give access to the interior. A ticket booth stands inside between the sliding doors, opposite the main stairway up to the boiler deck. The main stairway is flanked by rooms to port and starboard which run aft about 10 feet to the boiler room.


The boiler room occupies the middle half of the deck behind partitions to port and starboard of the boilers. The three boilers are connected by a single mud drum below and a single steam drum above. Each cylindrical boiler is fired from the front with No. 4 fuel oil atomized by an air blower when starting cold, or by a steam jet when hot. The fire passes beneath the water to the back of the boiler and returns through flues through the water. Exhaust gasses then pass through uptakes above the fire box, and exit the boat through smokestacks to port and starboard. Steam produced by the boilers is extracted from the steam drum and passes through the main steam line overhead to the engine room. The entire assembly is covered by a sheet steel jacket over the refractory material covering the boilers.

The current boilers are at least the fourth set fitted to Belle. She was first fitted with three return flue boilers, 44 inches in diameter and 24 feet long. These were rated for 157 PSI. In 1954, these, or a second set of boilers were replaced by three similar boilers from the famous overnight packet Gordon C. Greene that were rated for 200 PSI. A third, or fourth, set replaced these in 1965. These were not of traditional river pattern but were instead a pair of fintube boilers intended to increase her speed for the annual races with Delta Queen. These did not add materially to her speed (she lost again) and deteriorated rapidly. The fintube boilers were replaced in 1968 with the boilers still in use. The current boilers are very similar to the original boilers installed in 1914 and include many fittings from retired steamboats. They are rated for pressures of up to 200 PSI by their latest inspection permit.[6]

Three types of instruments indicate the level of water in the boilers. The oldest form of instrument is a vertical row of three small spigots, called test cocks, set into the back of each boiler. The water level is found by opening each one briefly to see whether steam or water comes out. The next oldest type, called a Van Duzen gauge for the inventor, is a clock face gauge activated by a float inside the center boiler. The third, and most modern type of water level indicator, called a sight glass, is a pipe open at the top and bottom to the interior of the boiler. The sight glass is a heavy glass window set into the pipe through which the water level can be viewed. The redundancy of water level indicators assures that the water will not be allowed to drop low enough to damage the boilers.[7]

The passageways outboard of the boilers are lined with storage and shop compartments. These compartments are believed to have been added in the 1930s when Belle began making extensive excursion trips. The last two side compartments aft extend beyond the rear of the boilers. Passengers can walk from the bow aft to the engine room by way of the passageway to starboard. In the engine room they can ascend to the deck above on the stairway at the stern bulkhead.

Engine Room

The engine room occupies the entire width of the stern and contains the engines, rudders, auxiliary machinery, and engine controls. The engines are mounted to port and starboard in the engine room on massive structural members called cylinder timbers. The cylinder timbers support the cylinders and crossheads at their inboard ends and the paddlewheel shaft at the after end.

The engines were transferred from another steamer to Idlewild when she was built. The name of the steamboat or steamboats that used the engines prior to Belle is unknown, but engines were often reused on new boats and the engines could have powered several boats prior to Belle. The date when they were built can be established by reference to the end brasses from the cylinder which spell the city of manufacture as Pittsburg. The spelling omitting the "H" was only used officially in 1889 and 1890, and those two years are believed to be the time when the engines were built.

The engines are high-pressure, poppet-valve lever engines equipped with Rees-patent adjustable or variable cut-off and inside cam motion. The cam turns inside a frame as the pitman turns the paddlewheel, and converts the motion to linear to-and-fro motion. This motion operates the valve gear which admits steam to the cylinders. The pistons push a heavy crosshead along a slide attached atop the cylinder timbers. The crosshead pushes and pulls the pitman which turns the crank and thus the paddlewheel. The cylinders are each 16 inches in diameter and have a stroke of 6 1/2 feet. Each engine develops 450 Indicated Horse Power.[8]

The paddlewheel is the massive construction of steel and wood, mounted at the stern, which propels the boat. It is 19 feet in diameter and 24 feet long. Six flanges, holding sixteen arms each, are evenly spaced along the paddleshaft. The arms are all held rigid by iron circles and blocking. Each arm and flange assembly forms one segment of the entire paddlewheel. The ends of the arms on each segment are attached to the paddle bucket planks which actually push the boat.[9]

A number of small auxiliary steam engines power various pumps and generators. Belle does not use any gas or Diesel motors in regular service though she does possess a Diesel generator for emergency electrical power. Four steam reciprocating, double-acting, duplex pumps handle all regular pumping duties and a large overhead-beam pumping engine called a "doctor" pump acts as a backup and toy for the engineers. The steam pumps are all located between the engine cylinders as is the single steam turbine electrical generator which provides ship's power.

All engine room controls are located aft of the generators between the engines. A system of bells, connected to the pilothouse, guide the engineer on duty as to what speed and direction is desired. There must be a chief engineer, and a striker on duty in the engine room and a fireman in the boiler room when Belle is operated.[10]

The steering is controlled from the pilothouse, but much of the multiple rudder system is located in the engine room. Cables from the pilothouse run through the superstructure and over sheaves at each side of the engine room to the long central tiller at the rear of the boat. This central tiller arm is yoked to two other rudders for additional control in maneuvering. Belle is unusual among modern boats for her lack of additional rudders, called monkey rudders, behind the paddlewheel.[11]

One item of Belle's original equipment still aboard is an iron bar cage which served as the brig attached to the stern bulkhead. The brig is said to have held criminals being transported aboard, and also has been called into service more recently to handle obstreperous drunks on excursion cruises.

Boiler Deck

The deck above the boilers is traditionally known as the boiler deck. This deck was mostly open when Idlewild was built, with an enclosed cabin space running down the middle. There are stairways to port and starboard aft and a single large stairway amidships between the stacks. Men's and women's restrooms run along the after bulkhead. Subsequent alterations removed the cabin from the central boiler deck and replaced the entire outer railing by windows and solid metal. A large ballroom was formed from the enclosed space. The central portion of the overhead is raised to provide room for a row of skylights. A band stand is aft against the lavatories. The purser's office and a gift stand are to starboard, and a concession stand is to port, opposite the main stairway.

Texas and Skylight Decks

The roof over the boiler deck did not originally also serve as a deck. This surface, which is on two levels, was the hurricane roof, and skylight roof when Belle of Louisville was new and called Idlewild. Later, when Idlewild was employed mostly on excursions, this roof also became a deck by the addition of passenger stairways and railings.


The raised section of deck over the skylights on Western Rivers steamboats was used to build a small group of cabins for officers. This cabin area, called the Texas, is only about thirty feet long, and supports the pilothouse on its roof. Small staterooms serve the officers for occasional cruises away from Louisville. The keyboard for the calliope is located on the after side of the Texas.

In 1968, an additional roof was built over the entire skylight deck, level with the top of the Texas. This roof is not railed, or open to passengers, but supports railed extensions to its forward corners to allow the Captain to view the bow and side when maneuvering. Carbon-arc searchlights of Second World War vintage are mounted at the outboard wings of the extensions. The large bronze ship's bell of about 400 pounds is mounted amidships at the bow between the extensions. The steam calliope whistles are amidships on this deck, well behind the pilothouse, with steam provided by pipes from the boiler and controlled by the keyboard on the back of the Texas.[12]


The pilothouse is a small, glass-enclosed, house with a domed roof mounted amidships atop the Texas. The roof is ornamented by acorn finials on the four corners, and an elaborate wrought iron ornament at the peak. The three-pipe steam whistle is mounted above the pilothouse, on an iron steam pipe.

The main feature of the pilothouse interior is the huge ship's wheel at the forward side, half hidden by the floor. This wheel steers the boat by means of cables which run down to the stern. A foot brake in the pilothouse floor, uses leather pads to stop and hold the wheel at the desired rudder angle. Belle is the only steamboat operating on the Western Rivers using only this method of steering, which Mark Twain would have found familiar. The pilothouse interior also holds a raised bench against the back windows. This bench, called the lazy bench, is provided for the comfort of visitors on many Western Rivers boats.

The pilothouse is surrounded by sliding windows which can be moved out of the way for clearer visibility. The front face is also fitted with chest boards which protect the person at the wheel from some of the rain and wind when the windows are open. Controls over the windows aim the powerful spot lights used to pick out landmarks used for navigation.


The single mast, with topmast, is stepped amidships just forward of the superstructure. The foremast supports a heavy boom at the level of the boiler deck. The boom is used to support and position the heavy landing stage by means of the stage hoist and guys, a multiple pulley system.[13]

Boiler exhaust travels up from the boilers on two sides and out of the boat through two tall smokestacks. When the boat was new she had simple "puddings," or donut shaped ornaments at the stack tops. In 1962 the puddings were replaced with fancier "feathers," which are delicate appearing steel cutouts at the stack tops.[14]

The only other features on the upper silhouette of Belle are the two 'scape pipes and a flag staff aft. The flagstaff serves double duty as a place to raise the national flag and as a mark for the pilot to judge the centerline of the boat. The 'scape pipes are small-diameter exhaust pipes for the steam used by the engines. Western Rivers steamboats use high pressure steam which is exhausted to the atmosphere rather than reused by a condenser.

To BELLE'S History


1. Alan L. Bates, The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium (Leonia, New Jersey: Hustle Press, 1968) passim.

2. Frederick Way, Jr., Way's Packet Directory; 1848-1983 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1983) p. 222.

3. Alan L. Bates, "Idlewild - Avalon - Belle Of Louisville" (Blueprint plans, Louisville, Kentucky: Alan L. Bates. N.D.) p.8.

4. Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp.22-30.

5. For details of construction when built and appearance of bull rails see Photo No. 1.

6. David Tschiggare, "Belle of Louisville Steams On" Steamboat Bill (No. 102, Summer, 1967) pp. 67-69, and Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp.41-44, and United States Coast Guard, Certificate of Inspection (Washington, D.C.: issued April 1, 1987) p. 2.

7. Reports and Documents upon the subject of The Explosions of Steamboat Boilers (Washington, D.C.: Duff Green, 1833) passim.

8. James H. Rees, James Rees & Sons Company, Illustrated Catalog Pittsburgh: N.P., 1913) pp.30-31.

9. Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp.92-97.

10. United States Coast Guard, op. cit., p.1.

11. Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp.36-39.

12. Bates, "Idlewild - Avalon - Belle Of Louisville".

13. Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp. 80-84.

14. For details of rig and ornament see photos and Tschiggfre, op.cit. pp. 67-69.

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