Delta Queen added to list of America's endangered historic places [videos]

Delta Queen added to list of America's endangered historic places [videos]

October 5th, 2016 by Emmett Gienapp in Local Regional News

The Delta Queen was docked at Coolidge Park before its departure for Houma, La., in March 2015.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

This story was updated Oct. 5 at 4:15 p.m. to change year of Delta Queen mooring in Houma, La.

The Delta Queen has been spotlighted as a treasure worth saving.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has included the steamboat in its 2016 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The annual list spotlights important examples of the nation's architectural and cultural heritage at risk of destruction or irreparable damage, according to the trust. Of the more than 270 sites listed over the past 29 years, fewer than 5 percent have been lost.

Since 2015, the 89-year-old ship has been moored in a Houma, La., swamp, awaiting its fate after spending six years tucked along the riverfront on Chattanooga's North Shore.

The Delta Queen has contended with the so-called "Safety of the Sea" law, designed in 1966 to prevent ships with wooden hulls from carrying passengers overnight. The bill was drafted following a string of tragedies involving ocean-going vessels throughout the 1950s and '60s.

The bill inadvertently affected the steamboat, which received nine consecutive exemptions from the law until Congress failed to renew another 15-year exemption in 2007.

"The Delta Queen serves as one of the last remaining vestiges of a celebrated tradition in our country's history," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"Allowing the Delta Queen to traverse our rivers again would restore this unique experience for travelers along our great waterways."

Bipartisan legislation is pending in Congress to reconsider the objection and allow the ship to once again roam the country's waterways overnight with up to 50 passengers.

According to a release from the National Trust, "The legislation identifies a strategy to reduce fire risk and ensure modern safety protocols are implemented for the Delta Queen to operate safely."

The boat's owner, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., has said there is a plan in place to invest $10 million to repair it, but the company is waiting to see what happens with the legislation first.

"Everything really hinges on that Congressional [action]," Cornel Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., told the Times Free Press in April.

Martin has endeavored to get the steamboat sailing again for several years and is adamant about the safety of her passengers.

"She's certainly safer than a lot of large hotels — and she's never further than 100 yards from shore," he said. "She operated for 80 years safely."

In its addition of the Delta Queen to this year's list of endangered historic places, the National Trust recognized that the ship is one of the nation's last links to a long history of overnight passenger steamboat travel.

Built in 1926, the Delta Queen carried passengers between Sacramento and San Francisco. The ship also transported and housed troops during World War II before beginning a decades-long career as an overnight cruiser.

"She's still got a lot of life left in her, and she tells the story of our history," Martin said. "It's a part of America that we don't have to let pass away. We're not ready to give up, yet."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

The list

The 2016 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):

  • Austin’s Lions Municipal Golf Course – Austin, Texas. Widely regarded as the first municipal golf course in the South to desegregate, “Muny” is an unheralded civil rights landmark facing development pressure.

  • Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall at Lincoln University – Lincoln, Pa. The oldest building on the campus of the first degree-granting institution in the nation for African Americans, this hallowed building currently stands empty and faces an uncertain future.

  • Bears Ears – Southeastern Utah. The 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears cultural landscape features a world-class collection of archaeological sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and ancient roads that illuminate 12,000 years of human history yet is now threatened by looting, mismanaged recreational use, and energy development.

  • Charleston Naval Hospital District – North Charleston, S.C. The historic district played a prominent role during WWII as a primary re-entry point for American servicemen injured in Europe and Africa. Now threatened by a proposed rail line, this important historic resource is at risk of being largely destroyed.

  • Delta Queen – Houma, La. This steamboat was built in 1926 and today is among the last of her kind. Federal legislation that would enable this prestigious ship to return to overnight passenger cruising remains a key piece to securing the Delta Queen’s sustainability and future.

  • El Paso’s Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio Neighborhoods – El Paso, Texas. These historic neighborhoods form the core of El Paso’s cultural identity, but their homes and small businesses are threatened by demolition.

  • Historic Downtown Flemington – Flemington, N.J. Historic buildings at the core of the town that hosted the ‘Trial of the Century,’ the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, are threatened by a development proposal that would demolish the iconic Union Hotel along with three other adjacent historic buildings.

  • James River - James City County, Va. Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, was founded along the banks of the James River in 1607. The river and landscape, also named to this list by the Trust in 2013, remain threatened by a proposed transmission line project that would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.

  • Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes - Milwaukee, Wis. A beloved Milwaukee institution for generations, a unique engineering marvel and a highly significant example of midcentury modern architecture, the Milwaukee Domes are facing calls for their demolition.

  • San Francisco Embarcadero – San Francisco, Calif. The City by the Bays’ iconic waterfront is beloved by residents and visitors alike, but needs long-term planning to address the dual natural threats of sea level rise and seismic vulnerability.

  • Sunshine Mile – Tucson, Ariz. This two-mile corridor on Tucson’s Broadway Boulevard features one of the most significant concentrations of historic mid-century modern architecture in the Southwest. This unique collection of properties face threats from a transportation project that would require demolition.