Article by Stacy Ross
If Kimmswick Mayor Phillip Stang has his way, the historic Delta Queen riverboat will be just one of many vessels embarking from a new port and offering overnight cruises on the Mississippi River.
“We’re looking to go back to where the city was many, many years ago as a historic river city.” Stang said. “Our major objective is the longevity of the city.” Stang’s vision is getting close to reality. The centerpiece of Kimmswick’s renewal is the storied Delta Queen paddle-wheeled riverboat. The vessel is just nine years shy of a century old and is a National Historic Landmark. The city and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company’s owners are optimistic a congressional waiver (see sidebar) to allow the boat to offer overnight cruises will come through this summer. Once that hurdle is cleared renovations can begin with overnight cruises available a year later. The boat will carry 176 passengers in 88 staterooms on three to 10-night cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, Kanawha and Arkansas rivers.
Meanwhile work on a new $5 million port with surrounding improvements is expected to begin in October. The port— which will be built whether or not the Delta Queen gets its by Stacy Ross Kimmswick Looks to Its Past to Secure Its Future Historic Delta Queen and New Port to Spur Revitalization waiver—will include two docks; one sized for the Delta Queen, and a second for other excursion boats. Viking River Cruises and American Cruise Lines have expressed interest in making a stop in Kimmswick, said Neal Breitweiser, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority. Kayak rental, a new riverfront park and an amphitheater are among additional amenities being considered, Breitweiser said. “We’re bringing the river back to Kimmswick,” Breitweiser said.
“We’re going to have as many people arrive by boat and steamship as by car.”
While the Delta Queen will only offer overnight cruises, other Kimmswick venues are available for meetings and events. The Delta Queen’s dockside Port of Call restaurant opened 18 months ago in a restored Revolutionary-War-era log cabin. The restaurant has four contiguous dining rooms, each of which accommodates about 25, and a patio that can host 125. “We do a lot of corporate meetings from small groups to larger ones that have taken the whole facility,” said Leah Ann Ingram, vice president and chief operating officer of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which owns the restaurant.
The Port of Call has an all-scratch kitchen, and can cater on property and off site with custom plated or buffet menus, said Dana Jones, director of operations. The restaurant hosts breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, cocktail parties and small presentations for businesses and organizations, including government groups, drug companies and insurance companies, Jones said.
Diane Nagy has been involved in two events at the Port of Call. One was a holiday party for 60 members of the Kimmswick Historical Society, where Nagy is director of the museum. The group was divided into separate rooms for dinner, and then people were able to mingle, said Nagy. “It’s very cozy and comfortable.”
There were passed hors d’oeuvres, a plated dinner of turkey and baked ham, and bourbon bread pudding for dessert. “It was a huge plate of food,” Nagy said.
Nagy also is part of a group that held a meeting of about 40 people at the restaurant. “We had a continental breakfast, lots of coffee, and flow charts, exhibits and a presentation. There was room for that.”
The group did a walking tour and then went back to the Port of Call for more meetings, Nagy said.
The Blue Owl restaurant, well-known for its comfort food and “levee-high pies,” offers two private dining rooms and a heated veranda.
The Texas Tea Room can accommodate up to 20; the Owl’s Nest 20-35, and the Veranda up to 60. Room fees may be waived in certain circumstances, said Blue Owl owner Mary Hostetter. A typical lunch is $20 per person and includes a choice of three items from a selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, quiche, and desserts and includes a beverage. China and silverware are included and linens and décor items are available for a fee, as is additional time. The standard rental period is two-and-a half hours.
The Blue Owl is mandatory on Tradewind Tours’ bus trips, said Tradewind’s Shirley Clayton. “It’s a name that stands out,” Clayton said. “You wouldn’t have lunch anywhere else.”
The restaurant hosts business groups such as doctors and attorneys for meetings and holiday parties year after year. One group had lunch and then went on a scavenger hunt through town. “They came back for dessert,” Hostetter said. “We can customize things like that.”
Cheryl Martin is an account manager for USI Insurance Services in St. Louis. The company provides insurance for more than 30 school districts throughout the state. USI has held a holiday lunch meeting in one of the private dining rooms for the last three years.
“We have a meeting, then lunch and gifts and shopping,” Martin said. “It’s so nice and festive; the Christmas decorations are so pretty.”
Because of the venue’s popularity, Martin suggests planning ahead. She makes their reservation for the following December in January. “They’re very accommodating to work with,” Martin said.
The 95-year-old Mable-Ruth and Fred Anheuser Estate offers tours of the house and its 23-acre park with a deck overlooking the Mississippi River. Fred was the great-grandson of Eberhard Anheuser, who founded the company that became Anheuser-Busch. Fred died in 1984. Mable-Ruth bequeathed the property to the city of Kimmswick after her death in 2000.
The estate can be rented for private parties and meetings. The outdoor event area accommodates up to 250 people, while the indoor sunroom can hold 50. Groups renting the space bring in their own food and beverages, with a limited kitchen area provided for food preparation. A package that includes the entire estate plus linens, tables and chairs is $300 per hour for a minimum of two hours. The indoor and outdoor spaces can also be rented separately.
The estate is a popular stop on bus tours. Linda Koenig operates Gateway Tours in Chesterfield and regularly brings tours of about 50 people to Kimmswick. After lunch at the Blue Owl and shopping in the quaint stores Kimmswick is known for, the Anheuser Estate is the last stop. “We get a tour of the house, we get the history,” Koenig said. “People are free to wander through the house. They can see Mabel-Ruth’s clothing, her riding trophies, her memorabilia. And the grounds are just gorgeous.”
Other activities in the Kimmswick area include a visit to nearby Mastadon State Historic Site, an archeological park where prehistoric animal bones have been found and where Koenig often starts her Kimmswick tours. For history lovers who want to learn more about the town, the Kimmswick Historical Society offers tours of two restored log cabins, a guided historic walking tour of the town and the Historical Society Museum with a 20-minute film on the history of Kimmswick, all for $3 per person for groups of 10 or more.
Stacy Ross is a freelance writer from St. Louis
Delta Queen Hoping for Smooth Sailing Through Congress The Delta Queen Steamboat Company and a line of ready passengers are eagerly awaiting the Delta Queen’s return to navigating the rivers. So what’s holding things up? A waiver from Congress. Legislators in Washington D.C. have been debating the fate of the Delta Queen for three years. Why? According to the Delta Queen’s website, a fatal 1966 fire on a wooden boat in Florida prompted Congress to create the Safety at Sea Act, requiring ships carrying overnight passengers to be built entirely from non-flammable materials, The way the law was written inadvertently included the Delta Queen—the only boat of its kind offering overnight cruises on inland waterways—in its provisions. A waiver process requiring Coast Guard approval was developed and the Delta Queen was granted one every year until 2008 when the new owner decided not to request one and the Delta Queen became a floating hotel docked in Chattanooga.
Along came Ingram and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which purchased the boat in 2015 with a plan to restore her and offer three- to 10-day river cruises from Minnesota to Louisiana and from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. But by then, the Coast Guard had changed its mind. No waiver. Ever since then Ingram and her company have been lobbying Congress and negotiating with the Coast Guard for a new waiver. Ingram and others are optimistic that their most recent efforts will finally end this summer with a congressional waiver, which would allow for the first cruise to depart in summer, 2019, Ingram said.