The Delta Queen is an American sternwheel steamboat turned U.S. National Historic Landmark. It is 285 feet long, 58 feet wide, and draws 11.5 feet. The boat weighs 1,650 tons, with a capacity of 176 passengers. Its cross-compounded steam engines generate 2,000 indicated horsepower powering a stern-mounted paddlewheel. The hull, first two decks and steam engines were ordered in 1924. The Delta Queen and her sister boat Delta King were shipped in pieces to Stockton, California two years later. There the California Transportation Company assembled the two vessels for regular service between San Francisco and Sacramento, and excursions to Stockton, on the San Joaquin River. At the time, they were the most lavish and expensive sternwheel passenger boats ever made. However, they were decommissioned after a highway was built connecting Sacramento and San Francisco in 1940.
Then, they were purchased by Isbrandtsen Steamship Lines for service out of New Orleans. During World War II, the two vessels were requisitioned by the U.S. Navy for duty in the San Francisco Bay. Over fifty years or so, The Delta Queen changed ownership a number of times. Betty Blake, president of the steamship line, lobbied for a presidential exemption to the law prohibiting the operation of overnight passenger vessels with wooden superstructures. This battle was won in 1971.
She recreated historic steamboat races during the Kentucky Derby Festival in the Great Steamboat Race against the Belle of Louisville on the Ohio River. Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter have all sailed on the Delta Queen. Majestic America Line recently took ownership of the Queen. At the end of 2008, she ceased all operations allegedly due to a temporary exemption from SOLAS being thrown out in a recent Congressional decision. Without the exemption, the Queen cannot operate legally. In response, Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton, and 15 other members submitted a motion to the Scottish Parliament in an effort to preserve the ship. In the United States, a “Save the Delta Queen” campaign was created. Majestic America Line not only announced the Delta Queen would not operate in 2009 but added the ship and all its assets were up for sale.
Under a lease, Harry Phillips, a Chattanooga businessman, docked the vessel at Coolidge Park Landing in Chattanooga North Shores. The Queen was turned in to a floating boutique hotel. On June 5, 2009, The Delta Queen Hotel officially opened for overnight guests. However, will her permanent guest approve of the new accommodations?
Mary B. Greene played an important role in the Delta Queen’s history. She was one of the founders of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company as well as the first female ship captain. She loved the Queen and took excellent care of her. Ma Greene, as she was known as, worked to keep the ship family friendly and definitely did not approve of the sale of alcohol. She didn’t allow a drop of it on her ship. In 1949, Ma Greene passed away. Most employees tried to adhere to her wishes. However, a group decided to set up a saloon on the Queen. Minutes after the first cocktail was served, A barge wrecked in to the ship, completely destroying the saloon. Ironically, the barge was called Captain Mary B, named after Ma Greene. Many associate this accident as Greene’s displeasure with the saloon. An apparition of a lady believed to be Ma Greene has been seen wandering the steamboat. Many say she is friendly but remains to keep a close eye on her beloved Delta Queen.