Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

Do a trip report here....go to another city and want to relate it to what KC is doing right or could do better? Give us a summary in here.
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moderne
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Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

Post by moderne »

Having cruised rivers in Europe and Egypt always wanted to experience the nostalgia of the American steamboat era. But have no interest in southern plantation houses, even Mt. Vernon, Monticello, and the Hermitage gave me the creeps. Recently read best seller non-fiction "The Pioneers" about the settlement of the upper Ohio by Revolutionary War veterans, and mindful that our own sunken Arabia was built in Pittsburgh, decided to cruise from Pittsburgh down to Louisville on the American Duchess.
Vessel holds less than 200 passengers and lots of Covid restrictions in place. Probably more than 3/4 of passenger over age 60, so this is not a raucous party boat. Service was first class, great food, attentive staff. Mark Twain and Stephen Foster could have never imagined a river boat this luxurious.
Thought that seeing 3 big river cities(one larger than KC, one about the same size, and one smaller) would give me some insight into how cities interact with river. But comparing lower Missouri to upper and middle Ohio is like apples and oranges. Both very different by nature and by what Army Corp of Engineers has done for navigation.
Our Missouri meanders back and forth across a wide flood plain bounded by low hills and bluffs. The Ohio does not have much in the way of flood plains until things open up above Louisville. It is generally bounded in a narrow valley with high hills coming down to the river. Any level flood plain is very narrow and usually occurs where a tributary enters. There are numerous islands, some populated.
We all know how the Missouri has been transformed from wide slow and shallow into a high speed sewer that is hostile to any recreational activity.
The Ohio instead has 20 locks and dams. Behind the dams the current slows considerably. Ever city and town has a marina floating out into the river. There are innumerable homes lining the river banks with their own docks. There are very few towns with levees or dikes. For water recreation people do not have to drive hours to some reservoir. On a Sunday the waters around Pittsburgh Golden Triangle looked like Lake of the Ozarks on the 4th of July.
The 3 big cities have made freeway decisions that are negative, but they don't seem to matter that much. Pittsburgh has an elevated freeway along the Monongahela, but people just walk under it. Same with Louisville. Cincinnati has a freeway in a ditch in a similar position to I-70 here. They have embellished the overpasses but not covered the freeway. The riverfront would be like if KC had demolished all of River Market and put up football, baseball and indoor sports arena.
I can think of no way our river could become as friendly as the Ohio.
Both Cincinnati and Louisville have old bridges(both now Purple) that were repurposed into pedestrian bridges. Being one of the first big boats coming down the river since the shutdowns there were small crowds along riverbank in the middle of nowhere cheering. Coming into Louisville at twilight the ped bridge was packed with cheering families.
The small historic towns we stopped at were charming and packed with Federalist and Greek Revival antebellum structures.
The cruise line at one time considered a KC to St. Louis cruise, but dropped the idea when all captains and pilots interviewed said it was too dangerous. We did have a wooden paddle break from river debris and it had to be replaced. And at one port the river dropped 5 feet from morning to evening and that boat was stuck for a while. The boat has side thrusters and a propeller in addition to the paddlewheel

missingkc
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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

Post by missingkc »

Just saw this post. I would love to hear more of your observations.

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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

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Missing: I don't feel I can really critique the ports of call, as in all cruise ship/boats we were only in port for 8 hours or so. Did go to Pittsburgh 2 days before embarkation so I could see something more, but can review what I did see:
Pittsburgh, had never been there. I had an idea it was the rusty buckle of the rust belt. I knew the air had been cleaned up, but also knew that the metro population had been decreasing at every census for more than half a century. What i saw overturned my expectations enormously. The Uber from the airport went down a freeway through suburban hills very spread out development. Suddenly up ahead was a small mountain with a large building at the base with signage "Fort Pitt Tunnel." Emerging from the tunnel was about the greatest entry into an American city I have seen. On the other side of the Monongahela was the downtown Golden Triangle rising like a smaller version of the NYC downtown. Most impressive skyline for a city of this population size. Plenty of great old jazz era stone skyscrapers and enough shiny glass towers to rival a sunbelt town. My hotel was the Sheraton Station Square on the south side of the Monongahela with most rooms with a view of the skyline across the river. The neighborhood around the hotel was mostly rehabbed old industrial buildings with restaurants and apartments. There is precious little flat areas along the rivers it is hard to imagine that large industry could flourish squeezed in between rivers and hills. All the rehabbed brick industrial buildings all over town gave me a sort of steam punk impression. Immediately behind the hotel looms Mount Washington, the prominence the Ft Pitt Tunnel pierces. There are two inclines from the 19th century that climb to the top, 400 feet above the river. Went up on the Monongahela incline and walked a mile on the top to the Duquesne incline to go back down. Between the inclines is mostly park and promenade with every so often a viewing platform cantilevered out over the void. There are plenty of pricey restaurants that open up to the view. So the places to eat for an elevated view are at street level. There are some nice high rise apartments, and even a "reverse" high rise as the entrance is on top of the hill and the floors descend the hill below. Went to the Carnegie museums that are located east of downtown between the U of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon. Went explicitly to see the Egyptian exhibit. Most Ancient Egyptian objects in USA are in art museums and are objects that are considered art(exception: the Nelson-Atkins mediocre mummy that does not belong in an art museum). The Carnegie exhibit is in the natural history museum and has an anthropological view so emphasis is cultural, not high art. Looked like a 1950s era exhibit, but still good. The newly renovated dinosaur fossil exhibit was spectacular and very theatrically dramatically presented. Did not see much of the art museum half of the complex but noted the interior courtyard with wall made of reproductions of famous old world facades. Across the street was the Stephen Foster memorial which was closed open only by appointment. They had removed the statue in front that had a standing Foster with his hand on the shoulder of a crouching black man. It was discovered in the sculptors writings that he was a true racist. Behind the Foster Memorial was the U of Pitts "Cathedral of Learning" which is a 500 foot plus gothic deco skyscraper erected in the 1920's. Going in the opposite direction is Carnegie-Mellon University. These top tier universities are one of the factors in Pittsburgh successful transformation from a heavy industry economy. It seems the fortunes gained in the past are still benefiting the city. Between the area of the universities and downtown is the Strip district, comparable to Crossroads or Westport. One the edge of DT is the Heinz history center in an old industrial building. Five floors of exhibits, a floor for temporary exhibits and an entire section on Heinz foods. Wish we had something like this in KC, the new KC history exhibit in revamped Corinthian Hall will be totally inadequate. One of the coolest buildings downtown is the PPG, Phillip Johnson's post modern black glass gothic-ish skyscraper and satellite buildings. Interesting offside: Pittsburgh calls itself the city of bridges and claims to have more outdoor public stairs than an other city in US. The Point where the Monongahela and Allegheny meet to form the Ohio was where urban renewal began in the '50's. It is now a large park and has a rebuilt Fort Pitt blockhouse. The area is now a park, formerly industrial and rail yard. They even removed two river bridges and replaced them further upriver. The park is fronted by mid-rise modern buildings. At the very tip of the confluence is a large single jet fountain. Back in the urban renewal a large St louis style monument was proposed. Glad it did not come to fruition. It was a stainless steel thing looking like a rocketship made out of mylar balloon animal balloons. On the north shore of the Allegheny and Ohio on former industrial land are the baseball park and football stadium along with the science center. I was surprised to find our boat parked at the science center for embarkation and was berthed next to a submarine!
First port was Wheeling West Virginia. I always though of W VA as rural, hillbilly(can I say that word?) and economy was coal. While it is true there are no cities over 100,000, along the Ohio river is not backwoods. In the 19th century the river was the Silicon valley of the day. The small cities were prosperous and fortunes were made. Interesting that the border between W VA and Ohio is not the middle of the river. The river is entirely in W VA. Wheeling has a tidy downtown with amenities, lots of Victorian mansions. This part of the Ohio was a big center of glass production. Spent most of limited time at Ogelbay, It was founded by an industrialist and is a huge park centered on a mansion, glass museum, lodge, cabins, conference center, hiking trails, etc. Closest near comparison is Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City but this is much larger scale. The family mansion even when lived in was a sort of museum as every room is some historical period other than the time the home was occupied, and the furnishings are authentic period pieces.
Next port Marietta Ohio first city of the state, first city founded where from the begining slavery was forbidden. Thanks to Hollywood we think the Wild West was in the Great Plains and intermountain west. But at its founding it was the western frontier. There were atrocities by settler and the natives americans. Settlers took refuge in a fort called the Campus Martius, now a museum of the same name has been built over and around the remains of the fort. Next door along the Muskegon River is the museum of Ohio Riverboats. Everything you want to know about steamboat era and moored alongside is the last working steamboat ever made in US. This small city has gracious old neighborhoods with many houses looking like something in Charleston SC with the house long and perpendicular to the street with porch galleries down the sides. The original town cemetery contains more Revolutionary war officers than any other in US. In the exact center of the graveyard is "Conus" a perfectly symmetrical 30 foot native american mound. In most places settlers leveled these mounds, as in St Louis. Why would good Christians center their graves on this heathen object? Like Washington, many officers were Freemasons and they could respect and revere another cultures monument.
Huntington W VA was next port. Downtown was similar to Wheeling. Tour bus took us to edge of town to a heritage village, a living recreation of a WVA village 1890 to 1940. Very touristy. But then I did something like a stupid tourist. For gifts I purchased some finely crafted little baskets. The way the woman who made them and sold them did not make eye contact with me I thought she might be on the autism spectrum. Must have had the banjo playing hillbilly from Deliverance in the back of my mind. So I very loudly and slowly counted out the cash I gave her. Further down the road another craft person noted the baskets I was carrying and remarked that the woman who make them taught herself basketry after she went blind.
Next port was Augusta Kentucky. Small, charming but nothing special. Its one claim to fame is the Rosemary Clooney house. Chock full of personal and Hollywood memorabilia including the famous dress from the closing scene of White Christmas. Was her waist really that tiny. Guess nephew George has also invested a lot in the town.
Next Cincinnati. Really felt like a sister city of KC in size and situation. It has advantage KC has not like some corporate HQ and a top rated university. Boat docked by baseball stadium. Town almost as hilly as Pittsburgh. Beautiful old high end residential district of Mt Adams containing Eden Park. Park with lots of beaux arts embellishments: belvederes, pavilions, temples, ice rink and conservatory. Over-the Rhine district adjacent downtown is charming area like an 1850 german settled town with 2-3 story narrow buildings, shops below home above. Findlay Market nice compact farmers market and cafes. Union Station was breathtaking, The head house is a massive half dome with the flat half the front with windows facing the city. Streamlined deco to the max. The dome is covered in gradually changing color bands of mosaic. The drum of the dome covered in figurative mosaics of the history of the city. The rotunda now serves as the atrium to several museums. The waiting room was torn down some time late last century. The tour guide tried to tell me it was because modern trains were too tall to fit under it but that sounded not true to me. The front of the station has a giant cascade of fountain basins. Unlike KC where the station faces away from DT., the Cincinnati station faces downtown. Sort of spoiled by a huge tangle of freeway interchange in between that spoils walkability. DT Cincinnati has retained most of the functions lost long ago in KC. It is still a major jobs center with large bank and insurers, Kroger HQ and of course the giant Proctor and Gamble HQ. Still a retail center with department stores, high end retail and the high end restaurant chains you see on the Country Club Plaza. Proctor and Gamble not in a skyscraper. Looks more like an urban office park with twin towers resembling a pale colored American Century but attached to these twin towers almost as tall boxy wings and some satellite buildings around a block sized underground garage with "park" on top. Park has some pergolas and some plantings, but not verdant. Feels lot like roof garden of Barney Allis, Hoping KC 670 cap better. DT has finally hit a big roadblock with the pandemic. Lots of restaurant and store closures. Macys secondary HQ closing and the retail store probably doomed. Good news down street from Kroger HQ they are building 2 story full size store with housing atop.When the tour bus started back towards the boat I called on the guide to stop the bus. Begrudgingly the driver pulled over to a safe spot. I headed back a couple blocks to go inside a Deco lovers paradise. Built as the Rockefeller Center of the Midwest are the Netherlands Plaza Hotel and Carew tower. Covering an entire block it originally included a 23 floor parking garage "world tallest" now demolished. The interiors are lavish to the max. The hotel has the Palm Court looking like a combo of deco and french rococo. Exotic and lush.. The lobby of the Carew tower is like being inside a piece of jewelry. Unfortunately for me due to the pandemic the observation deck open since 1931 was closed. Carew was the tallest in town for 80 years.
Next was Madison Indiana. Over 100 blocks of historic district. On a stretch of very straight stretch of river with lofty hills so there are tremendous vistas. Old area of town built in semicircular valley indented into the hills. Was largest city in Indiana and bustling steam boat port. When railroads cam through state they went initially further north where it is flat prairie. Madison stopped growing and was thus preserved. Its like a full sized set for Little Women. Entire commercial retail streets without building gaps. Home in Federal, Italianate and Greek revival styles. History museum in rail station. Went through antebellum Lanier mansion. Greek revival with lawn stretching several blocks to river. Lavish interior of period as would expect. Interesting that third floor was boys floor and had low ceilings. Boys rooms were not so important as soon as adolescence they were packed off to military school. At time of Civil War family torn apart. Daughter who was southern sympathizer went to England to try to help gain aid. Ship sunk offshore,everyone made it to shore but her---she was weighted down by the gold and jewels sewn into her gown. AFter war the state of Indiana was in the red and Lanier money made the state solvent. Right next to town is Clifty Falls state park. Lots of pretty tumbling waters and rock formations. Some Came Running with Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLain filmed her in 1958. Wanted to see the hilltop house and adjoining cabin where Sinatra and Martha Hyer made love but it is off limits.
Final stop Louisville and home. Have to remark on Louisville airport. In morning and almost empty it was dirty and grimy. The furniture so worn and raggedy as to be threadbare. The carpet so covered with food and beverage stains to almost want to make me add my stomach contents to the mire.
A word about American Queen Cruise line. They have 3 boats plying the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee. I was on American Countess, the smallest and most intimate. The interior is not old timey at all. More contemporary continental casual. If you want the full nostalgia, calliope and all, take the largest passenger vessel every to sail America inland, the American Queen. It has all the gingerbread victoriana.

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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

Post by FangKC »

Rosemary Clooney's brother Nick, and his wife, George Clooney's parents, still live in Augusta, Kentucky in the house George grew up in. Nick Clooney was a news anchor for one of the TV stations in Cincinnati.

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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

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One prominent family can have a huge impact on a tiny town.

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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

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If you have ever watched the David Letterman's "My Guest Needs No Introduction" interviews on Netflix, Letterman visits Clooney's parents in Augusta when he interviews George, and ends up spending what seems like as much time with them as he does George.

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Re: Towns on the Ohio River by stern wheeler paddleboat

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Thanks Moderne, very interesting read

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