The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MARCH  2009

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.

The People News
Special Report






Delta Queen Rests in Chattanooga

by Alexandra Edwards

Last month, Chattanooga welcomed the arrival of the famous and historic paddle steamer the Delta Queen.

After 82 years of cruising the rivers, as well as serving her country, she is taking a rest on the banks of the Tennessee River at Coolidge Park, Chattanooga.

Manufactured in 1926 by the William Denny and Brothers shipyard in Dumbarton, Scotland,  the Delta Queen and her sister boat Delta King were shipped in pieces to Stockton, California. The vessels were assembled by the California Transportation Company and serviced the river between Sacramento and San Francisco.

The name "Delta" was derived from the San Joaquin River Delta route the boats took on their excursions from Sacramento to Stockton. Nicknamed 'million dollar boats' they were the most luxurious and expensive sternwheel passenger steamers ever commissioned.

Alexandra Edwards

However, by 1940 progress had made way for a new highway linking Sacramento to San Francisco and the river boats were driven out of service.

During World War II, both vessels were requisitioned by the Navy as receiving ships for naval reservists in the San Francisco Bay.  They later served the Navy as emergency hospital transports.

After the war, the Delta Queen was purchased by Green Line Steamers of Cincinnati, Ohio, for use on the Mississippi River system.  Using a tug, the Queen was towed via the Panama Canal across 5,261 miles of open sea to New Orleans and later on to Pittsburgh where she received a major overhaul.

Since 1948, though owned by several different companies, the Delta Queen has served as a regular passenger service cruising the waters of the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers between Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Paul, Chattanooga and Nashville.

With a capacity to hold 200 passengers and 87 cabins, the Delta Queen is 285 feet long, 58 feet wide and weighs 1,650 tons. Its cross-compounded steam engines generate 2000 indicated horsepower, powering a stern mounted paddlewheel.  The great paddle steamer was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1970 and later declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
Over the past several decades, the Delta Queen cruised the waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries from New Orleans to Memphis, St Louis to St. Paul, Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and more.

The million dollar boat has given pleasurable and many memorable moments to its passengers. Some famous and very important passengers have been aboard including three U.S. Presidents; Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter.

Since 1970, Delta Queen had continued to operate under a special Presidential Exemption from the  Safety of Life at Sea Law (SOLAS) (Public Law 89-777), a law designed to protect the public from injury in the unlikely event of fire.

The law forbids any vessel, foreign or domestic, from operating from a United States port carrying over 50 overnight passengers if it is constructed primarily of wood.

Despite opposition from the Coast Guard, owners of the Delta Queen had managed to satisfy the law in order to gain the exemptions.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent adding fire retarding coatings to the decks,  modern sprinkler systems, sophisticated electronic monitoring systems, crew training in fire fighting and suppression, to gain the needed exemption. However, when the same bill went to Congress in April 2008 it was defeated.

The bill's failure was due to opposition of the exemption by two key law makers, James Oberstar, D-Minn, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, stating that the boat's advanced age and wood construction presented an unacceptable safety risk and that the boat's workers are not unionized.

Though after huge public support from the Save-The-Delta-Campaign, which ended with a letter to then President Bush requesting an executive order to grant the exemption for the historical vessel, the beloved Delta Queen was forced to cease service as a passenger ship by end of  2008. 

The 82 year old Queen of paddle steamers has however managed to retain her dignity and  is now chartered by entrepreneur Harry Phillips who brought the ship to Chattanooga, where it will temporarily be moored and operate as a historic boutique hotel.

The vessel took her final cruise from New Orleans arriving at Coolidge Park,  Chattanooga on February 11.

Phillips, along with  partner Sydney Slome who will be hotel manager, have experience in preserving historic properties and intend to keep the river boat atmosphere with Dixieland jazz and cabaret shows.

The ship/hotel, scheduled to open in April,  will accommodate up to 200 passengers and will be accessible to both overnight guests and daytime visitors. Nightly rates will range from $79 - $125  for standard cabins and $175 for suites.

Educational tours on steamboat technology will also be available.

Pleas for the SOLAS exemption for the Queen are still ongoing and hopefully one day she will proudly cruise the  the southern rivers that know her so well, but for now she's taking a well deserved rest.