St. Elmo, Illinois
(Riverboat) was built in 1924 as a sidewheel river excursion boat for travel on the Upper
Image courtesy of Gateway Riverboat Cruises, 1989.
Mississippi River. The riverboat was originally christened the Cincinnati. At the time, it was one of the last overnight packet boats in operation, travelling between Cincinnati and Louisville with occasional excursions to New Orleans and Pittsburgh. Riverboats were also used for day excursions and provided onboard entertainment.
In 1929, the riverboat was sold to the Streckfus Steamer Company and was briefly used as a packet boat. Shortly after, it was temporarily removed from service to undergo renovation work for conversion into an excursion boat. More stringent safety requirements encouraged the new owner to rebuild the entire superstructure of steel. As a result, the boat was stripped and rebuilt from the hull up. The new superstructure took the same general form as the old but replaced two decks of cabins with a two-deck-high Grand Salon (ballroom), and Art Moderne ornamentation and styling replaced the Victorian Steamboat Gothic of Cincinnati. By 1933, renovation work converted her into the largest excursion boat in America. Streckfus Steamers renamed the boat President and advertised it as “the New 5 Deck Luxury Super Steamer, Biggest and Finest On The Upper Mississippi.”
The President traveled the majority of the year and went to New Orleans for the winter months when low water and cold weather made operations difficult. The ship travelled north as the winter ended, following the warm weather. President would stop at any port where it could take on passengers and hold performances. By August, the boat would travel upriver to St. Paul, Minnesota, and would gradually work its way back south again.
The President (Riverboat) was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 20, 1989, as the only remaining Western Rivers sidewheel excursion boat. During the spring of 2009, the President was dismantled at its mooring location in Alton, Illinois, and moved by truck to a temporary holding area in St. Elmo, Illinois. It took over 100 semi-trailer loads to transport the 65-foot-high, 300-foot long, and 84-foot wide riverboat. The owner plans to reassemble the boat on a small lake in St. Elmo for use as a hotel and conference center. It will be placed upon concrete piers in a newly dug pit near the lake. The pit will be flooded after the reconstruction to give the appearance that the riverboat is on water. The President had already suffered from previous neglect and earlier alterations to accommodate gambling. Both the earlier gambling alterations and the present actions taken to relocate the ship have removed all aspects of integrity from this National Historic Landmark. The President had its NHL designation withdrawn on July 13, 2011. Its National Register of Historic Places listing has also been withdrawn.