There are few things more intriguing and mysterious to a child than a ride on a steamboat, especially the historic steamboat Belle of Louisville.
There's something about the sound of the whistle, the turn of the paddlewheel, and the running of steam engines built in the late 1800s that captivates the imagination. Children of all ages feel a connection almost as soon as they get on board.
The Belle of Louisville was built just two years after the sinking of the Titanic, during a time when the world was at war and most homes did not have indoor plumbing or electricity. It was still the Victorian era, and children and women had many social restrictions placed on them. The largest industry in the country was agriculture, and most children typically had limited formal education.
With the advent of the steamboat in 1787, the history of the country took a new pathway, a "river pathway" that opened new vistas and allowed those seeking new adventures a way to get there. Learning about the steamboat era can help children see America's history from a whole new perspective.
Some activity ideas are included, but we recommend making plans to take a ride with your children. Please note that during some seasons of the year the Belle's schedule is limited or cruises are not available. Our smaller riverboat, the Spirit of Jefferson, is available for cruises most of the year. Please refer to our website schedule (through the Cruise Calendar option), or call the Belle office for specific information.
The historic steamboat Belle of Louisville, the riverboat Spirit of Jefferson, and their wharfboat, Life-Saving Station #10, are all about education - of the steamboat era, the river, and the boats themselves.
With the advent of the steamboat in 1787, the life and livelihood of the newly-independent United States changed dramatically. It was a matter of economics. Over the next several decades commerce expanded on every navigable waterway in America, because steam travel meant products could get to major markets more rapidly and in larger quantities than had ever been possible before.
For almost 150 years, steamboats ruled the rivers and served an important role in the development of the country. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, good roads were hard to come by. The steam train was invented in 1825, but dependable and efficient railroads didn't exist, for the most part, until the completion of the intercontinental railroad in 1868. Until the 1870s it was more economical to ship by river than over land; but even as roads and railroads became more reliable, the steamboat still played an important role in shipping.
The majority of steamboats were built as packets (freight boats), and they could carry many tons of goods of all kinds - everything needed in towns, cities, and farms along the inland rivers. By the 1880s, the steam towboat had made an appearance, but towboats gained greater popularity after the turn of the 20 century. As the usage of towboats increased in the 1920s and 30s, the packet boat business decreased. Tows were capable of transporting larger loads at a more economical rate. The last packet boat was built in the early 1940s, and by the 1960s the last steam packets still remaining had been converted to excursion service.
Today, the Belle of Louisville is the last river steamboat operating that was built as a packet. Though she has had three names and has led an adventurous life, she is the oldest of the remaining river steamboats and was constructed during the steamboat era. She is living history, and a cruise on board is a return to a time when traveling by steamboat was a commonplace way of life.
The Spirit of Jefferson, a modern-day diesel-powered riverboat, is an example of a resurgence in the interest of the steamboat era of long ago. She was built after nearly all the river steamboats from that time were gone, when cities were re-establishing their river history. She, too, has had three names and has traveled on more than one inland waterway, arriving in Louisville just shortly before the turn of the 21 century.
Another significant piece of river history can be seen in the unique wharfboat for the Belle and Spirit. Though she is today called the Mayor Andrew Broaddus, she is actually the third version of Life-Saving Station #10. In the mid-19 century, the Federal government established a life-saving service with stations along the coastal and Great Lakes regions of the country. By the late 1870s the need for an inland life-saving service had become clear; and the first station was established at the most hazardous location on all the inland waterways, at Louisville across the river from the Falls of the Ohio. LSS #10 is now the last of her kind.
Experience the many fun and educational features of the Belle of Louisville at this rich website. Within the website, you and your students have options to:
- Watch the complete field trip video.
- Take a virtual tour of the boat via galleries of high quality photos that teachers and students have full rights to download for educational, not-for-profit use.
- Play the fun andinteractive "How Well Do You Know the Belle?" challenge.
- Explore an extensive dictionary of steamboat vocabulary.
- Learn aboutsteamboat-related career options.
- Find events in the history of steam river travel.
- Utilize teacher resources, including lesson plans and a variety of related instructional resources.
- Use the Links page to find related websites.
Check out this new website and experience the Belle of Louisville in a whole new way!
Coming soon - additional resources and educational materials!