Has a President Ever Been on the Belle of Louisville?

The Belle of Louisville is known fondly as Louisville’s Leading Lady. A showpiece of the city right in the middle of downtown, the Belle has welcomed thousands of visitors every year for most of her 109-year history.

With President’s Day around the corner, we got to thinking – with so many illustrious guests aboard the Belle over the years, have any Presidents ever been on the Belle?

The answer is yes… sort of.

According to Belle of Louisville Historian Kadie Engstrom, presidential visits to the wharf have been recorded as far back as 1929, when Herbert Hoover visited Louisville to commemorate the completion of the canalization project. In October of that year, “Herbert Hoover took a steamboat trip on the Ohio… and he and his entourage stopped at Louisville at the 4th St Wharf to give a speech. He spoke from the boat, the Greenbriar, a US Army Corps of Engineers towboat, to the people on the wharf. They were at Louisville a short time, as the purpose of the trip was to stop at as many locations as possible where one of the 51 dams and locks had been built, so they only stayed long enough to make a presence and then moved on.” She adds, “I’ve not seen a picture of the Idlewild with the Greenbriar on that trip, so I doubt that she was in the area then.” However, Kadie shared a photo that shows the Greenbriar on the left. President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover are on the boat, although they cannot be seen.

“It was a rainy, gloomy day, but people did turn out to hear the speech,” Kadie added.

Presidents and Presidential Candidates in the Belle Years

According to Kadie, “Ronald Reagan was on the Belle during his [presidential campaign]. A lot of the crew had their picture taken with him that day.” Jimmy Carter took a trip on the Delta Queen, and when they stopped at Louisville he may have come over to the Belle [to see it] but I don’t think he was ever really on the boat.”

Although he did not win the 1996 election, Presidential candidate Bob Dole (who served as Senate Majority Leader from 1985-87 and again from 1995-96, and as Senate Minority Leader from 1987-1995) came on the Belle during his campaign.

Presidents and Steamboats at the Louisville Wharf

If you have been down to the Belle of Louisville’s offices, you may have seen a historic marker right outside the Mayor Andrew Broaddus listing notable visitors to the wharf. So although some of these visitors predate the Idlewild’s 1914 construction, there have been presidential visitors to our current location.

These include Abraham Lincoln, “as he traveled to Louisville by steam packet boat in 1841 to visit the Speed family at Farmington for at least three weeks, and he traveled again by steamboat going back to Illinois,” Kadie shared. On his way back, Lincoln noted with horror that enslaved people were chained on the boat, “and it was one of the experiences he had in life that eventually led him to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.”

Another Kentucky-born President, Zachary Taylor, took a steam packet from where he was living in Louisiana to his 1849 Presidential inauguration, stopping in Louisville along the way.

So there you have it! Although a sitting President has never been on the Belle, there is no shortage of notable Presidential guests that have shared our wharf.

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