The Belle of Louisville has been cruising along since 1914. She looks good for her age doesn’t she? A National Historic Landmark and an icon of the Louisville waterfront, the Belle is the only remaining authentic steamboat from the great American packet boat era.
No matter what you’re boarding for – sightseeing, a four-course dinner, live music excursion or unique event – it’s always a very special occasion. A cruise on the Belle is a chance to explore and enjoy a living, operating museum.
history of belle
When you’re 106 years old and counting, you’ve got a rich history. Learn more about the Belle from her time as the Idlewild and the Avalon up to her journey to Louisville’s waterfront.
The Idlewild was launched on October 18th at Pittsburgh, PA. She served as a ferry between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas and moved freight as a day packet.
The Idlewild spent a season in Louisville running trips to Rose Island and Fontaine Ferry amusement parks.
After years of traveling U.S. waterways from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Montana to Pennsylvania, the Belle returned to Louisville and stayed through World War II.
The Idlewild offered moonlight cruises during the Big Band era and occasionally served as a USO nightspot on the Mississippi River to help the war effort.
Idlewild Master Ben Winters’ death-bed wish was granted by renaming the boat Avalon.
The Avalon was sold to a group of Cincinnati investors. Over the next 13 years, she became the most widely-traveled river steamboat in American history.
The Avalon was put up for auction at Cincinnati. She was purchased by Jefferson County Judge Executive Marlow Cook for $34,000 and renamed the Belle of Louisville.
Countless hours were spent rebuilding and repairing the Belle. On April 30th, she began her new life by racing against the Delta Queen in the first Great Steamboat Race.
The Belle was highlighted as the nation’s oldest and most authentic river steamboat at the first celebration of the steamboat era, Tall Stacks in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In August, the Waterfront Development Corporation assumed the operation of the Belle of Louisville on behalf of Louisville Metro.
The Belle of Louisville celebrates her 100th birthday with a 5-day gathering of her peers on Louisville’s Waterfront.
10 Facts About the Belle
Cruising April through October
At 105 years old, the Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in America, with only one other vessel of similar age in the world!
In fact, she’s the only river steamboat in American history to reach the age of 100
Her engines are even older– dating to the mid-1880s (and are still doing the job!)
Still today, the Belle operates under steam power
The Belle of Louisville was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Our ticket office, Life Saving Station #10, is also a National Historic Landmark and the only inland life-saving station in the country
The Belle began as a packet (freight) boat, ferry and excursion boat, then switched to excursion only in the early 1930s
She has been registered under three names: Idlewild (1914 – 1948), Avalon (1948 – 1962) and Belle of Louisville (1962 – present)
US Coast Guard Approved Capacity: 800 People