by Dan Smith
Hold on a minute. Do you mean to tell me that a private businessman is willing to bring a grand steamship to New Smyrna Beach at his own expense and the city fathers are dragging their heels?
If Wayne Heller manages to bring a floating National Historic Landmark to Volusia County we should all form a welcoming committee.
It seems that the city's concerns deal with the potential upkeep of the Delta Queen and are asking for a deposit from him. Give me a break.
If I know local politics before making a decision they will order an expensive feasibility study, the cost of which would more than cover the deposit.
The Delta Queen would reflect a time when Volusia County relied on steamboat traffic to provide transportation and the needed goods to keep this area running. In the 1800s the St. Johns River ports of DeBary and Astor were important stops for the steamers working from Sanford to Jacksonville. Astor was begun as a landing by William Astor Jr. of the prominent New York Astors in 1871. Originally he called the small community that sprang up around the landing "Manhattan" but after his death in 1891 the town was renamed Astor in his honor.
DeBary was also begun in 1871 by Frederick DeBary who ran a steamship line on the river for years in order to get his citrus to market. Even after Henry Flagler built his railroad the gentle glide of the steamships were a common sight on the river for many years.
The Delta Queen was begun in the shipyards of Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1924 and completed in 1926. It was then shipped to Stockton, Calif., where it plied the Sacramento River to San Francisco for many years. Eventually the boat which at its launch was the most lavishly appointed stern wheeler ever built would be driven through the Panama Canal and into the tributaries of the Mississippi River. There it carried passengers in grand style for decades.
The Delta Queen inspires images of a slower time when people dressed to travel. It even comes with a resident spirit in the form of the ghost of Mary Green who served as ship's captain in the 1940s. Legend has it that Mary loved the old steamship and refused to give up her quarters when she passed away. Come on! A national historic landmark with a ghost included.
You know sometime back I wrote a column lauding the great job New Smyrna Beach did on Flagler Avenue. This big elegant stern wheeler could be just the accent for the reborn beachside. I can envision costumed re-enactors strolling the decks: the men in waistcoats and the ladies with bustles and parasols. Hey wait a minute. Was that Mark Twain? Come on New Smyrna, lighten up a little and let's all enjoy the sight of the Delta Queen in local waters. It will make a fine hotel and certainly will be a tourist attraction. It just might be a lightning rod for other businesses to pop up nearby.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society, the Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of a fishing book.