Historic Boats Illinois National Historic Landmark Riverfront

Goldenrod Showboat Celebrates its Centennial

by Michael R. Allen

The day was beautiful, and our need for a trip away from the city strong. Looking for a destination, we settled on tracking down the Goldenrod Showboat on the Illinois River. After all, we are in the venerable entertainment vessel’s 100th year. Using directions from a friend sent last year after he stumbled upon it and Google Earth (which showed it a few miles from where it actually lies), we got a general idea of the location in Kampsville, Illinois and set out.

Of course, the Goldenrod now sits outside of its first Kampsville location. After not finding the boat on the town’s riverfront, we asked a couple walking down the road how to find it. The man knew where it was, gave directions and proceeded to offer the information that his aunt was a waitress and actress on the Goldenrod between 1945 and 1950. Even in this unlikely new home, the Goldenrod is part of a local’s family heritage — how ’bout that?

A few miles later, we spotted the Goldenrod moored to a barge on a section of overgrown riverfront. The boat was unmistakable, and the deterioration has not claimed much of its integrity. Everything is still there, down to the boat’s recent (and somewhat unattractive) paint scheme. The paint is peeling, the wood drying and in some places rotting. Yet the Goldenrod survives unharmed in its sleepy Illinois berth.

A few years ago, this outcome was far from likely. After its itinerant early years (more on those later), the show boat became a permanently-moored restaurant on the St. Louis riverfront. In 1990, the City of St. Charles, which had purchased the boat in 1988, moved it to the St. Charles riverfront. The restaurant closed in 2001, and in 2003 the city decided to sell the boat. The St. Charles City Council accpeted bids, and sold it to a company headed by John Schwarz. (The Council rejected Bob Cassilly’s bid to move it back to the St. Louis riverfront.) Schwarz moved the boat to Kampsville, after announcing plans to restore the vintage vessel.

However, in 2007, Randy Newingham and Shelia Prokuski, owners of the site where the boat was moored, sued Schwarz for unpaid mooring fees. In September 2007, Newingham threatened to sell all or part of the boat for scrap to cover his costs. One month later, a Calhoun County judge ordered an auction of the boat, and the court accepted Newingham and Prokuski’s lone $50,000 bid. However, by the end of the year the couple had reached and agreement to sell the Goldenrod back to John Schwarz. Schwarz moved the boat north. In 2008, however, Judge Richard Greenleaf declared that the proper court papers for the auction had not been filed, throwing the ownership in doubt. To date, the ownership has not been cleared.

Hence, the Goldenrod Showboat sits lonely on the side of Illinois Highway 100, and as summer sets in, disappears behind stands of grasses and the leaves of riverbank trees. The sturdy boat is crumbling, but not very rapidly. Asphalt roof paper provides cover for much of the deck area, and the boat is locked up tight. Hopefully, this is not how the Goldenrod will end its days, even if this sad state is how the boat will spend its centennial year.

The path from birth has been convoluted, but most of the Goldenrod’s days have been good ones. Pope Dock Company of Parkersburg, West Virginia built the boat in 1909 for businessman W.R. Markle. Originally, the boat was named Markle’s New Showboat. Built for entertainment, the boat would travel the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and stop at town where it would dock. Patrons would come aboard for a night of music, comedy and other live entertainment. According to most accounts, the boat was the last showboat built for the Mississippi and Ohio river circuits. At 200 feet long and 43 feet wide, the boat was one of the largest showboats ever built. The seating capacity was 1,400.

Markle lost the boat through foreclosure in 1913, and the next owner renamed the vessel the Goldenrod Showboat. In 1922, Captain Bill Menke purchased the boat and implemented a 12-month touring schedule. His tenure would be long and fruitful. Menke moored the boat at Aspinwall, Pennsylvania for two consecutive summers, 1930 and 1931. In summer 1937, Menke brought his show palace to St. Louis for repairs but ended up permanently mooring it here. According to “That Landmark on the River,” an article by Mary Duffe that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 10, 1968, the boat hosted stars like Red Skelton, Monte Blue, Kathy Nolan, Major Bowes and others during Menke’s tenure. Menke reported that he had to ask patrons in southern towns to leave their firearms at the riverbank.

In 1963, Pierson and Franz purchased the Goldenrod Showboat. A few small fires led to major renovation, including a new steel hull. On Christmas Eve 1967, the National Park Service listed the Goldenrod Showboat as a National Historic Landmark, the highest federal distinction for a historic property. The National Historic Landmark nomination includes a short history of the boat, as well as the fact that the original hull is intact inside of the steel barge that now serves as the hull.

The National Historic Landmark nomination may be skimpy by today’s standards of historic documentation, but the nomination’s assertion of the great cultural significance of the Goldenrod remains true. This was one of the last and most lavish of the great river show boats, and it may be the only survivor of that type. Its future is important not only to St. Louis, its later home, but to the history of the 15 states the Goldenrod is known to have regularly visited between 1909 and 1937. The centennial of the boat should be a spur toward preservation. If the current owners (whoever they may be legally) cannot figure out how to bring the boat back to life, let’s find the person who can.

Downtown Green Space JNEM National Historic Landmark National Register

Tell Senator McCaskill There’s No Need to Pass Arch Grounds Legislation Now

by Michael R. Allen

On October 3, Congressman William Clay (D-MO 1st) introduced HR 7252, which would downgrade the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds from the current National Historic Landmark status to listing on the National Register of Historic Places and, most important, authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Trust that would allow the Trust to manage the Memorial grounds and construct a museum there. The Danforth Foundation incorporated the Trust in June, with Peter Raven, Walter Metcalfe and Bob Archibald as the corporation’s directors.

Now, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has felt pressure to introduce a companion in the Senate. Believe it or not, word is that some parties want the bill to pass in the current lame duck Congress, while privatization-friendly President George W. Bush and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne are still in office. McCaskill has yet to cave to the pressure. If she did, and the bill were to become law, a public process already underway for planning improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial would be stopped, and a private vision would be enshrined in federal law.

Clay’s bill is inappropriate on several fronts:

  • The bill short-changes the public, which has yet to see the National Park Service’s draft management plan for the Memorial or participate in the planned 45-day public comment period. NPS has released a summary of its preferred alternative, but has not issued the actual draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. NPS will release that draft in January, with the comment period immediately afterward.
  • The National Park Service has called for an international design competition to be held next year where changes to the grounds could be visualized and a winning entry would be selected by a jury. This process would allow for a wide range of possibilities to be explored. The winning entry might call for something other than a museum on the grounds.
  • Congress should not exercise the power to remove National Historic Landmark status for political reasons (there is a formal process for removing the designation in place within the Department of the Interior).
  • It is an abuse of the purpose of the National Park system for Congress to direct the National Park Service to lease a National Park to a private group solely for construction. We can build a museum at the Memorial — although we already have two there — but we need not cede control to a private entity to do so. Without a public input process, we have no idea if there is support for the museum idea or what sort of museum is appropriate for the site.

    I urge my readers to contact Senator McCaskill (via this page) and tell her that the Clay bill is flawed and premature. Sending the same thoughts to Representative Clay (via this page) would be helpful as well.

  • Categories
    Historic Boats Historic Preservation National Historic Landmark Rivers Salvage

    Goldenrod Showboat May Be Safe — For Now

    by Michael R. Allen

    For the last few weeks, local preservationists have been trading rumors of the impending salvage sale of St. Louis’ long lost floating National Historic Landmark Goldenrod Showboat. According to an article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the sale may be averted and the old show boat moved from its dry dock in Kampsville, Illinois. Whether or not the boat heads back to St. Louis is uncertain.

    Demolition National Historic Landmark St. Charles County

    The Demolition of Prince Hall at Washington University

    by Michael R. Allen

    Built St. Louis has already published demolition photographs from Prince Hall, which is a long way gone.

    That the demolition started so quickly raises many questions. How did preservationists fail in this case? There seemed to be considerable delay from the time people started talking about the proposed demolition to the time people acted. And the action came mostly in the form of letter-writing and a few newspaper article quotes. Admittedly, the preservation dynamo Esley Hamilton worked hard to preserve the building. The rest of us were there mostly in spirit and not enough in deed to make a difference.

    The potential to have lobbied alumni and donors could have been utilized. Washington University may have changed its mind if its decision was costing money. With large universities, there seems to be no other way outside of legal restriction to keep historic campus buildings standing.

    I also think that the building’s secluded location on a private campus located amid wealthy neighborhoods kept it from being a championed cause among the rank-and-file of urbanists and preservationists. Most of us, to be frank, didn’t go to Washington University and live far from the manicured lawns of Clayton. I have to admit that Prince Hall was low on my list given the urgency of the situation of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and other north side buildings.

    Still, the Washington University Tudor Gothic campus core — designed by Cope & Stewardson and built between 1901 and 1905 — is one of the most attractive collegiate groups in the country. The great significance of this group as architecture, that art so public that ownership legal barely restricts its appreciation, outweighs any reservations myself and others had. We should have tried much harder.

    One final question the demolition raises is whether or not the Washington University campus district’s listing as a National Historic Landmark District should be de-certified. Is there sufficient context left for it to remain listed? What would de-certification mean for the other buildings? The National Historic Landmark listing again proves to give no special protection to an historic building, even if it gives special recognition. Preservation is the result of human action.