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Preservation group says there’s no hope left for saving the landmark Goldenrod Showboat

The Goldenrod Showboat took on about 7 feet of water when the Illinois River flooded near Kampsville, Illinois, in early May 2017.
Historic Riverboat Preservation Association
The Goldenrod Showboat took on about 7 feet of water when the Illinois River flooded near Kampsville, Illinois, in early May.

Illinois River floodwater has drained from the hull of the Goldenrod Showboat, along with any lingering optimism that the century-old vessel can be saved, according to the preservation group that owns it.

“There’s no glimmer of hope,’’ said Jacob Medford, vice president of the nonprofit Historic Riverboat Preservation Association. “We’ve tried our best with the Goldenrod, but not everything works out exactly how you want it. But we gave it our all.”

On May 8, Medford posted on Facebook that the Goldenrod was taking on water after the swollen river flooded the bank where the historic vessel has been sitting for years, near Kampsville, Illinois, about 80 miles north of St. Louis.

The Goldenrod — once a fixture on the St. Louis riverfront — took on about 7 feet of water, partially flooding its interior, including the theater, he said. This latest setback ends a last-ditch effort to disassemble and rebuild the vessel on land.

“We’ve reached the end of life,’’ he said, glumly.

The Goldenrod’s Facebook page echoes that sentiment, including this recent post: “Things are not looking good. We are not expecting the showboat to be around much longer.”

The dock owners are pressing to have the landmark removed from their property, Medford said, adding that he doesn’t know when or how that will happen.

The dock owners won the Goldenrod in a foreclosure action, but donated it to the preservation association last year to avoid the cost of salvaging or burning the structure.

That action was a surprise, coming six months after the preservation group bid the landmark a final farewell. For months, they had been salvaging artifacts that they still hope to display in local museums. They are storing chandeliers and gilded mirrors, furnishings and photographs. The pilothouse was also removed from the vessel, leaving the aged and weathered landmark a shell of its former self.

“I had a really great response with the idea of the museum,’’ Medford said. “We’re going to continue that mission. The Goldenrod vessel itself being left behind, it’s a hard thing to do. But, at some point, we knew in our hearts it was bound to happen.’’

Salvaging artifacts was Plan B for the group, which abandoned its original goal — to refurbish the Goldenrod and return it to the St. Louis riverfront — after the vessel suffered irreparable damage in August 2015 during another bout with the flooding Illinois River.

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 been parked at Kampsville, where a crew of volunteers too young to have seen the showboat in its heyday took up its cause.

The preservation group, which worked for years to preserve the Goldenrod, has always had the will, but not the money, Medford said. It would have cost about $3 million to make the showboat river worthy.

He believes the group has salvaged enough artifacts to continue the spirit of the Goldenrod.

"Does it feel bad that the boat might not be there much longer?  Yeah, it does,’’ he said. “But I know that we have made enough progress that we can recreate the atmosphere of the Goldenrod.”

Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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