Order Your Copy of Historic Clermont County An Illustrated History
Historic Clermont County
Order Form

Island Queen the Essence of Summer

Cincinnati Enquirer, Date Unknown
Owen Findsen

If there ever was a day that marked the end of an era in Cincinnati, it was Sept. 9, 1947. It was the day the Island Queen died.

Fifty years ago, it meant a morning rush to pack a picnic lunch, a ride on an orange streetcar to Fountain Square (before there was a plaza) and a hurried walk down Broadway to the Public Landing, where the boat was tied up to the Coney Island wharfboat.

"Standing tall behind the wharfboat is the great white steamer whose multiple decks make it look like a giant wedding cake," John H. and Robert J. White wrote in their 1995 book The Island Queen. "Steam is up and the engines roll the big wheels over in a lazy fashion as part of the warm up exercise long before the lines are cast off and the huge steamer begins her ponderous journey upstream."

Island QueenKids left their parent and raced onto the boat, their feet ringing on the metal steps. They all gathered on the top deck of the five-deck boat to put their fingers in their ears and watch the captain pull the cord on the big whistle.
Then they ran down to the engine deck to watch the huge 30-foot long push rods called pitmans, turn the 30-foot diameter paddle wheels. In mid-river, the big boat that river men called "Big Liz' would use her big side wheels to revolve gracefully in place, pointing her bow east to start her journey.

There were five trips up river to Coney Island from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The last docking at the Public Landing was at midnight.

At Coney, there was Sunlite Pool, carnival-style sided shows and comparatively short waits to ride the Wildcat and Shooting Start roller coasters. Kids, so boisterous on the way up river, were weary on the way home. In the moonlight, the top deck was taken over by lovers.

Then came the headline: "21 Believed Dead, 15 known Hurt in Island Queen Blast and Fire." The Coney Island season had ended on August 31, and the Queen, with a new Interstate Commerce Commission permit to expand her cruising range, had arrived at Pittsburgh for a nine day stay. A welding torch set off the explosion.

It was the end of a tradition that began in the 1870's, when James Parker rented his apple orchard on the Ohio River for a Sunday School outing. The church group chartered a steamboat to take them from Cincinnati to his grove, 10 miles east of downtown, Mr. Parker decided that renting his grove was easier than growing apples. He added picnic tables and some rides and advertised Parker's Grove as "The Coney Island of the West."

Various boats were hired for the Coney run. In the 1890's Levi Brooks, then owner of the amusement park renamed Coney Island, decided to build his own steamer. A contest was held to name the new boat, with a $100 prize. Mrs. J.F. Foster and Anna L. Hambleton split the prize. Both suggested the name Island Queen. The boat went into service in 1896 and burned at the Public Landing in 1922.


The second Island Queen went into service in 1926. The all-steel 291 foot, 1800 ton, oil-burning steamer was one of the largest on the inland rivers. It carried 4,100 passengers, and took an hour to make the 20 mile round trip between the Public Landing and Coney Island. It made the trip five times a day, except Mondays, throughout the summer.

After the Queen burned, Coney Island enlarged it parking lots and expanded bus service from Government Square.

There was some talk of purchasing the Delta Queen or the Avalon (now the ailing Belle of Louisville), but costs were too high. The Island Queen was the last of her line.