Riverboats have rich history in Cape

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A piece of Cape Girardeau history is gone. Riverboats will no longer tie up on the riverfront and discharge their passengers to shop and eat. It is the end of a long and rich tradition that extends back to Mark Twain and beyond.

Once upon a time, riverboats were a key mode of transportation not only for passengers, but for essential items that supplied merchants and factories. The boats hauled goods produced in the area to markets in St. Louis and New Orleans.

In recent years, the last remaining riverboat companies sold nostalgia and an opportunity to experience some of what Mark Twain described so well in his books. The boats brought visitors to our fair city who otherwise might never have seen our historic downtown or strolled along the tree-lined streets that cross the university campus. And we would have missed the opportunity to meet and greet some of the luminaries of our time who found riverboat travel to be enjoyable.

Now the economy and federal regulations have put a huge sandbar in the mighty Mississippi River that the riverboats cannot surmount. The American Queen, the Mississippi Queen and the River Explorer will no long bring the excitement of an arriving boatload of special guests. No more Fourth of July races from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis. No more calliope concerts on a warm summer evening.

The riverboats aren't essential to travel and commerce as they once were. But they will be sorely missed by anyone who still feels that lure of the river and its history of sternwheelers. Their loss ends another chapter in our history.

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