About Boats Whose Names Start With The Letter
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City of Clinton Showboat

City of Clinton Showboat History


She was built in 1935 and named "The Omar." She was created as a working boat, a 2-deck tug for the Ohio River Company.
Mainly made of steel, she is 207 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 37 1/2feet high. In the water, she displaced 581 gross tons.

Her oaken paddlewheel, rebuilt in 1980, is approximately 32 feet in diameter. It was powered by two Marietta compound stem wheel engines that required 25 to 75 tons of coal a day. These engines produced 1,000 horsepower.

For 25 years, "The Omar" pushed barges up and down the Ohio River. Then in 1962, the Ohio River Company presented her to the State of West Virginia for use in its centennial celebration. That marked the end of her working days and the beginning of her "stage" career.


She was converted from a tug to a showboat without losing her charming riverboat features. The main deck, lounge and second deck captain's quarters were preserved. The original galley area and crew's quarters became the theater.

By raising the pilothouse, a new third deck was created, providing theatre balcony and museum exhibition space. Crowning the "Rhododendron," renamed for the state flower, was the pilothouse with its captain's control wheel and a bird's eye view of the river.


The City of Clinton, Iowa, purchased the showboat "Rhododendron" from the state of West Virginia on September 15, 1966 at a public bid price of $21,165. A week later, she began her 1,600 mile journey from Morgantown, WV. She was towed down the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh, on the Ohio to Cairo, IL, then up the Mississippi River to her new home

She was moored at Riverfront Park, entertaining the public with plays in the summertime and providing an appropriate focal point for the handsome park.


In 1975, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers began a major flood control project along the city's waterfront, and the showboat took a five-year vacation. When the attractive, protective dike was completed in 1980, she made her second Clinton debut and was rechristened "City of Clinton"

The "City of Clinton" is now permanently located atop the dike. Here she is protected from the ravages of the winter river and was easily accessible to the public for tours and plays. She received a sparkling white new exterior in 1980 and enjoyed interior refurbishing as well. Visible from the river, the park, Riverfront Drive, and the Gateway Bridge, she welcomes visitors and is a proud landmark for Clintonians.


With the rededication of the Showboat in 1980, the theatre was given the name of Clinton born Lillian Russell, one of America's most popular stars of the 1890's.

She was born Helen Louise Leonard in 1860, the daughter of Charles, the founder of the Clinton Weekly Herald, and Cynthia, an active feminist, orator and singer. The family moved to Chicago in 1863 where "Nellie" studied music. When she was 16, she and her mother went to New York and her study of opera continued. Her career began when she joined a "shocking" burlesque company and quickly found success in comic operas. She married several times and had two children, one who died in infancy.

Lillian Russell was adored by the public and became a symbol of an opulent era. She was said to have had the most beautiful facial features in the history of the American theatre. Her rich blonde hair, blue eyes, voluptuous body, hourglass figure and clear, full lyric soprano voice were to captivate audiences for more than 35 years. Part of her style was her love of jewels and beautiful clothes, particularly large, specially designed hats.

She starred in a series of successful comic operas including several by Gilbert and Sullivan. In 1890, at the request of President Grover Cleveland, she dramatized the first long distance telephone hookup by singing from New York to the president and other dignitaries in Washington, D.C.

In 1896 she made her first return visit to Clinton to appear in "An American Beauty." She came to Clinton for the second and final time in 1906 and, as everywhere else, people went wild. During World War I she worked enthusiastically for the Red Cross and Liberty Bonds and later *poke out for women's rights and judicial reform. Her death was mourned in 1922 and she was buried in Pittsburgh.

Clintonians turned out to honor Lillian Russell in 1940 when the movie of her life made one of its world premieres here. At that time the brass plaque, now on the showboat, was presented to commemorate Lillian Russell, great lady and Clinton native.


Late in 1983 the Clinton Park Board and the Showboat Advisory Board decided it was time to keep the moneys paid the summer theatre companies in Clinton, An Artistic Director was hired and the Showboat Players were founded. The summer of 1984 found the first group of Showboat Players performing in the Lillian Russell Theatre.


The fall of 1988 saw the incorporation of a new nonprofit group - Clinton Area Showboat Theatre. They went to the city council and requested to lease the Showboat and to run the theatre. The summer of 1989 found CAST running the theatre. At this time the area used as a museum was converted to a shop to build sets for the theatre. Also the City of Clinton received a grant from the State of Iowa to remove the boilers and convert the front portion of the main deck to a large open room for a waiting area. In 1989 and 1990 this area was used as a rehearsal space for the Showboat Players.


With the spring of 1991 came riverboat gambling to the Clinton area. The first deck of the Showboat is completely rebuilt inside. All small motors, generators, pumps & etc. were removed. Mississippi Belle II built their new ticket office in the forward portion of the first deck, while the City of Clinton built in a new box office for CAST and a concession stand. Also the first deck, theatre and dressing rooms are now completely air condition and heated. This makes it possible to use nearly year round.


1992 found us getting a handicap elevator and redoing the back section of the main floor seating of the theatre to use for wheel chair seating.


In 1995 with the help of a grant from the Clinton County Gaming Association we build a ramp at the stem for direct entry to the second deck.


With Mississippi Belle II, The Iowa Department of Criminal investigation and the Iowa Gaming Commission moving off the Showboat, CAST now has complete use of the Showboat, moving the box office to the area of the Gaming Commission and the Artistic Director's office along with the Production Stage Manager's office to the area vacated by the DCI. The old box office was removed to give more space across from the concession stand.


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