The Goldenrod was built in 1909 by Pope Dock Company for W. R. Markle. She was originally named Markle’s New Showboat but soon renamed Goldenrod. The Goldenrod claimed to be the last showboat built for the Mississippi River and the last showboat which survived. The Goldenrod has been registered as National Historic Landmark.
While it has been reported that Edna Ferber was inspired by the Goldenrod to write her book “Showboat”, it’s more likely that Edna Ferber’s book actually is based upon the time she spent traveling with the James Adams Floating Theatre. The musical “Showboat” is based on Edna Ferber’s book.
Steamboats.org also hosts an extensive paper about history, present and future of the Goldenrod showboat by Asley Weber, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, from April 23, 2003.
The Goldenrod is considered the largest and finest showboat ever built being 200 feet long and 45 feet wide. She’s seating more than 1,400 people. In 1913 Markle lost the boat by forclosure. She went on auction and was sold for $11,000. In 1922 the Goldenrod was purchased by Capt. Bill Menke who run her as 12 months season. She spent two summers at Aspinwall, PA, in 1930 and 1931. In the summer of 1937 the Goldenrod went to St. Louis for repairs. She was moored at the Locust Street Landing until 1962. Until then the Goldenrod visited about 15 states each year.
In 1988 the boat was purchased by the city of St. Charles from Frank Pierson’s heirs who owned her since 1964 and restored her. She was moved to the Missouri River in 1990. The Goldenrod was restored and renovated. She reopened in 1991 as dinner theater with live shows. In 2001 the Goldenrod closed due to financial problems.
Touring the Goldenrod Showboat in July 2003 in St. Louis
In June 2003 the showboat was given to the Lewis and Clark Landing LC at St. Louis, where the boat now is moored at a storage dock off Gratiot Street, south of the Poplar Street Bridge, waiting for a good idea what to do with her.
As of July 2003, the Goldrod Showboat was located at St. Louis, privately owned by a real estate venture. One of the owners, John Schwarz, gave us a tour to the boat on July 25th, 2003. The most interesting part was seeing the old wooden hull. The old hull was in very bad shape – fortunately it is not needed for keeping the boat afloat, as there is a steel hull around it, built around the old wood hull in 1974. Nevertheless, adding the steel hull obviously was not done very well what you can recognize by looking at the terrible deformation of the decks that can be seen on the pictures from outside. Also John Schwarz told us that the electric installations and the plumbing and sprinkler system is in terrible shape, as are parts of the boats wood.
Clearly there would have been major expenses to restore the boat, so the boat definitely needed a concept for usage that makes money. Especially when you look at the amount of money the city of St. Charles obviously already had invested in the boat (about 4 Million $) and you have no idea where this money went to when are looking at the boat right now. This shows how expensive any restoration will be and how important a money making concept for the Goldenrod is.
Her final days on the Illinois River
Sometime around 2010/2011 the Goldenrod has been towed to Kampsville on the Illinois River. Wikipedia has a record of her proceedings, changing ownership, being sold in a Sheriff’s auction after dispute about mooring fees et cetera. Eventually in 2016 volunteers saved some artifacts from the Goldenrod after she has suffered serious structural damage after being moved onto land in summer 2015.
She might have been scraped by now …