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Delta Queen docking at Houmas House in late 70sA few weeks ago, I was rummaging through some old pictures of Al Robert’s taken in and around The Cabin Restaurant in Burnside. I stumbled across the one above of the Delta Queen, a steamboat the plied the Mississippi during the the mid-20th century. It used to stop off at Houmas House and drop passengers off for an afternoon of touring around the stately plantation home (in fact, my fiancé’s mother’s first job was as a tour guide at Houmas House during the 1970s when the picture was taken; she had to walk up and down the levees to the steamboat in one of those big hoopskirt dresses to escort passengers to the house).

Today, the Delta Queen is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Historically, she cruised the major rivers that constitute the drainage of the Mississippi River, particularly in the American South. 

The Delta Queen is 285 feet (87 m) long, 58 feet (18 m) wide, and draws 11.5 feet (3.5 m). She weighs 1,650 tons (1,676 metric tons), with a capacity of 176 passengers. Her cross-compounded steam engines generate 2,000 indicated horsepower (1,500 kW), powering a stern-mounted paddlewheel.

The hull, first two decks, and steam engines were ordered in 1924 from the William Denny & Brothers shipyard on the River Leven adjoining the River Clyde at Dumbarton, Scotland. Delta Queen and her sister, Delta King, were shipped in pieces to Stockton, California in 1926. There the California Transportation Company assembled the two vessels for their regular Sacramento River service between San Francisco and Sacramento, and excursions to Stockton, on the San Joaquin River. At the time, they were the most lavishly appointed and expensive stern wheel passenger boats ever commissioned. Driven out of service by a new highway linking Sacramento with San Francisco in 1940, the two vessels were laid up and then purchased by Isbrandtsen Steamship Lines for service out of New Orleans. During World War II, they were requisitioned by the United States Navy for duty in San Francisco Bay as USS Delta Queen (YHB-7/YFB-56).

In 1946, Delta Queen was purchased by Greene Line of Cincinnati, Ohio and towed via the Panama Canal and the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to be refurbished in Pittsburgh. In 1948 she entered regular passenger service, plying the waters of the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers between Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Paul, Chattanooga, Nashville, and ports in between. Ownership of the vessel has changed a number of times over the last fifty years.

The Delta Queen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was subsequently declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Today, she is docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee and has been converted into a floating hotel.