Goldenrod Showboat is sinking in the flooded Illinois River | St. Louis Public Radio

Goldenrod Showboat is sinking in the flooded Illinois River

May 8, 2017

Updated 4:30 p.m., May 8, 2017 — The historic Goldenrod Showboat is sinking in the flood-swollen Illinois River, near Kampsville, Illinois, according to the nonprofit group that's been fighting for years to preserve it.

Jacob Medford, vice president of the preservation group, said Monday afternoon that the future is uncertain for the century-old showboat. He estimates that it's  taken on about 7 feet of water, which has partially flooded its interior, including the theater. 

The Goldenrod was once a fixture on the St. Louis riverfront.

The group has posted photos of the Goldenrod on its Facebook page

Our previous story from Sept. 20, 2016:

Six months after a preservation group bid the Goldenrod Showboat a final farewell, the St. Louis landmark has again avoided the salvage yard, and there's a new plan to disassemble and rebuild the historic vessel on land.

The nonprofit Historic Riverboat Preservation Association had been working to buy the Goldenrod from the owners of the dock where it has been moored on the Illinois River. Volunteers with the group gave up on that effort after the century-old showboat was damaged by flooding in 2015, and they expected that the Goldenrod would be scrapped or burned. 

But the dock owners recently donated the Goldenrod to the preservation group, breathing new life into the campaign to save the floating theater, according to Jake Medford, vice president of the preservation association.   

The original goal of restoring the Goldenrod  and returning it to the St. Louis riverfront has been scrapped. The focus now is on saving as much of the aged and weathered structure as possible and recreating it as a land-based museum and theater in St. Louis, Medford said.

The dock owners decided against salvaging or burning the showboat because of costs and environmental restrictions, he said.

“For them to destroy the boat would be a bigger trouble than it would to let us deconstruct it piece by piece,’’ Medford said. “So, it’s actually helping both parties. We get what we wanted. And they get the not-hassle of getting rid of or destroying the boat.”

He stressed that all plans are very preliminary.

“We’re still crunching numbers and putting everything together,’’ he said.

Volunteers worked for months salvaging artifacts from the Goldenrod.
Credit Historic Riverboat Preservation Association / Goldenrod Showboat

For now, the showboat remains on a bank of the Illinois River, about 80 miles north of St. Louis. The Goldenrod suffered irreparable damage in August 2015 during efforts to save it from the flooding river. Volunteers gathered at the site on March 31 to say their final goodbyes.

The preservation group had already removed artifacts of value — chandeliers and gilded mirrors, furnishings and photographs — planning to display them in St. Louis area museums. The pilothouse was also removed from the vessel and is in storage.

For 50 years, the Goldenrod Showboat was a fixture on the St. Louis riverfront, where it hosted lively ragtime and jazz festivals and campy vaudeville productions. It was moved to St. Charles in 1989 where it operated as a dinner theater. But in recent years, it’s become a landmark of sorts near Kampsville, Ill., where a crew of volunteers too young to have seen the showboat in its heyday took up its cause.

Medford, 25, says that reconstructing the showboat on land is more feasible and would cost less than the $3 million it would have taken to make the showboat riverworthy.

“The river is where it failed,’’ he said. “The river can tear up, sink, destroy. So that idea of saving the entire vessel on the water is not a realistic idea.’’

He acknowledges that the new plan has a long way to go, but he is relieved that his group now owns the Goldenrod. He says the dock owners have not given the group a deadline for removing the structure.

“Thankfully, there’s no deadline,’’ he said. “And that’s the one thing I’ve raced against all these years.”

The group will be updating its website and has been posting about its new efforts on its Facebook page.

The century-old Goldenrod Showboat was a landmark on the St. Louis Riverfront.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio