Delta Queen listed as endangered historic place

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has sounded the alarm about the Delta Queen’s future by placing the steamboat on its 2016 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The annual list focuses on “important examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage,” the trust said in its recent announcement. Fewer than five percent of the more than 270 sites on the list in its 28-year history have been lost.

The vessel, now docked in Houma, La., was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and a National Treasure by the trust in 2013.

“The National Trust believes the designation will raise awareness about the plight of the Delta Queen and help build support for her return to active service,” said Shaw Sprague, director of government relations and policy. “The Delta Queen has sat idle for more than eight years and deterioration is outpacing reinvestment. The best preservation outcome….is for the boat to receive the reinvestment she needs to provide a safe, authentic paddleboat experience on our inland waterways.”

Whether the boat will ever sail again is largely up to Congress where Delta Queen’s supporters have been pushing for legislation to exempt old vessels operating on inland waters from current fire hazard restrictions if the owners make annual alterations to at least 10% of the areas not constructed of fire-retardant materials.

The legislation is key to getting commercial financing for much of the estimated $5 million needed for restoration and renovation of the 1926 paddlewheeler that has a wood and steel superstructure. The 176-passenger vessel, which had been kept alive with a series of exemptions, stopped sailing in 2008 when Majestic America Line shut down.

A bill passed the Senate commerce committee just before the summer recess but hasn’t advanced since. “We’re hoping they’ll still take the legislation up this year,” said Cornel Martin, who with partners bought the Delta Queen last year for an undisclosed sum.

He also hopes the trust’s designation “will highlight the need to save the Delta Queen” and encourage Congress to pass the legislation “so she can be restored.”

The owners expected to have the boat cruising again this year. They planned to homeport her in Kimmswick, Mo., a small town about 25 miles south of St. Louis. But all the renovations would need to be done before she’s moved, said Martin, an executive with an earlier Delta Queen operator.

“The only way to maintain the vessel on an ongoing basis is for her to return to service,” he said. And if they don’t get the exemption? “We really haven’t played out a Plan B yet.”

Candidates for the list are selected based on “the national significance of the historic place, the urgency of the threat, and the possible solutions,” said Jennifer Sandy, the trust’s senior field officer.

Other places on the 2016 lineup include Charleston (S.C.) Naval Hospital District and San Francisco Embarcadero. See the complete list from National Trust for Historic Preservation.

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.


  1. Avatar
    Robert Stanley on

    DELTA QUEEN should not be on any list of USA historic places. The tub represents a collection of false history and misinformation. The tub was manufactured in Scotland and brought to California to be assembled, much like a Lego set, for service on the Sacramento River. Hence the name includes Delta, which refers to Sacramento River Delta. The Scottish tub never was authentic, since most passenger shipping on the Mississippi River in the 19th century was on sidewheelers, not sternwheelers. Sternwheelers became prominent, well after the golden age of ROBERT E. LEE and NATCHEZ, because they were more suitable than sidewheelers as tug/pushers for flotillas of barges. Passengers in the 20th century were gulled into believing they were enjoying an historically correct voyage out of the golden age of Mississippi River passenger shipping. Beyond the history, DELTA QUEEN failed on 2, not just 1 safety measures: in addition to the well known fire safety problems, she could not survive specific hull penetrations, because she failed the requirements for floodable length. I know this. I did the proper calculations, in 1973. The results were quashed due to political interference. Shame on the persons involved. Shame on the current proponents trying to bring DELTA QUEEN back into service.

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      A little harsh? She is the last of her kind. Do you know of any running Mississippi sidewheelers? How about any existing ones, exactly!. Do you know of any other Scottish paddlers for US service? Any other running Sacramento River Ships? Over her 70 years of Mississippi River service the Delta Queen has earned a place in history, she is a legend. Also, from inside can you really tell the difference from a side-wheeler? In the engine room sure, on the decks sure, but in the lounge of in a cabin, can you? Come on, just be reasonable. Go bring your misery rain somewhere else. The stern wheeler may have come about well after the golden age, but it was still an age of steamboating, correct? Are most preserved steamboats sternwheelers, and how many are operating, and how many are overnight operating? The DQ is the last of her kind and a treasure. I feel your anger from 1973 is talking, don’t kick her and her fans in their darkest hour.

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    W.E. "Ted" Guy, Jr. on

    I take it that Dale’s newspaper was not the Cooperstown Crier or the Otsego Herald. What was it called? I lived in the summers of the 1940s in Cooperstown in my father’s house called “Punkin Dell” and have been back a number of times since to visit my late first cousin, Henry Cooper at Redcreek Farm. I’m also a South Florida resident of Stuart, since 1983.

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    Thank you for the article. I have a great picture of my father on the Delta Queen in the California Delta during the Great Depression. I believe it may have been used as a hotel by people working at a nearby glass bottle plant.

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    I have lived on the upper Mississippi during the early years of my life, no one cared where it came from or how it was put together, and yes we knew about the General Slocum and what could happen, but when the Delta Queen traveled the river, people stopped and watched, sometimes waiting for hours to get a good look at her and at night there was nothing like it, Life is not always about specifications and calculators, This boat is a piece of American history, lets try to avoid throwing another part of our past in the trash, once its gone, she will never be back, dont forget that.

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