The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the sternwheel river steamboat Delta Queen as one of America’s 11-Most Endangered Historic Places. The Delta Queen, built in 1926, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. She has been tied to the dock since 2008, a victim of bankruptcy, regulations, and Congressional inaction. A new owner is attempting to put the riverboat back into overnight service but is waiting on a waiver from Congress.
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. She has a steel hull and a wooden deckhouse. Her cross-compound steam engines generate 2,000 indicated horsepower (1,500 kW), powering a stern-mounted paddlewheel.
Built in Scotland on the River Clyde by William Denny and Brothers, she was taken apart and shipped in sections, along with a sister vessel, the Delta King, to Stockton, California where the two vessels were assembled. The Delta Queen and operated between Sacramento and the San Joaquin River Delta until 1940. During World War II, the steamers were requisitioned by the Navy and served as hospital transport ships. In 1946, the Delta Queen was purchased by Greene Line of Cincinnati, Ohio. After being refurbished she entered regular passenger service in the the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers between Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Paul, Chattanooga, Nashville, and ports in between.
In 1968, the US Coast Guard began applying SOLAS (the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) to vessels operating on inland waterways. The Delta Queen, with a wooden superstructure, did not meet the structural fire protection standards. It was the only large vessel to be impacted by the change in the rules. Congress, however, granted a series of waivers to allow the riverboat to continue operations from 1968 to 2007.
In 2008, as the parent company, which owned the operator of the Delta Queen, slipped toward bankruptcy, Congress failed to grant the necessary waiver, and the steamboat was pulled from service. In the intervening years, the riverboat has been operated as a dockside hotel.
In 2015, New Orleans businessman Cornel Martin purchased the steamboat and committed to a $5-10 million reconstruction to put her back in overnight service once they receive a new Congressional waiver. In March 2015, Congressman Steve Chabot of Cincinnati, OH reintroduced legislation to grant the waiver to allow the historic steamboat to operate. And what has happened? Not exactly nothing, but the waiver has not been granted. Delta Queen supporters have charged that American Cruise Lines, a competing steamboat company, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to keep the Delta Queen tied up.