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Final curtain: The damaged Goldenrod Showboat poses for pictures one last time

The gloom of the skies over the Illinois River matched the mood aboard the historic Goldenrod Showboat Wednesday afternoon, as one of her loyal guardians ushered reporters and photographers around the creaky vessel for one last photo op.

The 106-year-old showboat appears to be headed for the salvage yard. The vessel suffered serious structural damage after it was moved on July 25 -- to a spot just feet from where it had been moored for years near Kampsville, Ill. Flooding on the river had put the showboat in a precarious position, and this was thought to be a safer -- and level -- location, said Jake Medford, vice president of the nonprofit Historic Riverboat Preservation Association.

“The river dropped so quickly, and we found out that the land was not very level,'' he said. "It ended up putting pressure on the bow and the stern because one end was on land and the other end was still floating. It ended up buckling the hull in the middle.’’ 

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Volunteer Jake Medford says it will be hard to say goodbye to the Goldenrod. He has volunteered with the group for five years.

Medford said the damage was a fatal blow to the group's dream of restoring the showboat for an eventual return to the St. Louis riverfront.

 “We were trying to save it from the flood and ended up hurting it,'' he said glumly. "That’s the worst part. Our intentions were good but fell through.’’

The board met Tuesday night and decided that the cost to repair the Goldenrod in its current condition would be prohibitive, Medford said.

“It’s slowly falling apart now,’’ he said. “To do a restoration on this would be tons and tons of money and our resources wouldn’t allow us to do that.''

The group is still far from working out the details of a plan, he said, but they believe the most feasible option would be to salvage historic items from the showboat for display in a riverboat museum that would highlight St. Louis river heritage.

“St. Louis was built by a river, but there’s no riverboat museum in the city,'' he said.  "So that’s what we want to add.’’

Medford said he is in discussions with the Goldenrod’s owners -- Pool 24, the dock where the showboat is moored. The dock owners were awarded the vessel several years ago because of  nearly $70,000 in unpaid dock fees. They had threatened to salvage the showboat but had been working with the preservationists. The group had made about $50,000 in payments and had assumed caretaking responsibilities.

Medford, 24, has been with the group for about five years. He began as a volunteer caretaker before being named to the board and assuming public relations duties. He said the volunteers remain dedicated to finding a way to preserve the vessel’s legacy.

“Our job was to save the Goldenrod Showboat,’’ he said. “There’s no feasible way to do it all, but we’re going to save some of it.’’ 

For more on the history of the Goldenrod Showboat, see the story and photographs from our visit to the vessel last summer: Can this floating landmark from the St. Louis riverfront be saved?

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Exterior of the weathered showboat that once entertained St. Louisans on the Mississippi riverfront.

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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