ON THE OHIO RIVER_Day two of our American Queen cruise finds us docked in Madison, Indiana, called by Charles Kuralt “the most beautiful river town in America.”
Founded in 1809, the former transportation hub for Mid-America, which also played an important role in the Underground Railroad, is today a collection of charming historic homes, shops and museums. After a quick buffet breakfast at the Front Porch, we board a bus at our appointed time to begin our hop on, hop off tour of the city.
We are each given a map that notes all the drop-off points, with detailed descriptions of what we’ll see and recommended time to spend at each. You can choose to “hop off” at any one. Buses are running all day and usually come by every 15 minutes or so for pickup. On each bus, American Queen has placed knowledgeable tour guides that convey helpful information about what we’ll see.
The weather is surprisingly mild and overcast for our visit, where our first stop is the Schroeder Saddletree Factory, the last of its kind in the United States and possibly the world. What’s a saddletree, you ask? That’s the wooden frame that holds a saddle. Opened in the late 1800s, it closed in 1972, but everything is still in place for tours. Pam learned they also made clothespins as a lucrative sidelight. Guides are on hand to explain it all.
The next three stops we choose are all historic houses: The Shrewsbury-Windle House, built in 1846-1849, in Greek revival style, with its 12 rooms, 13 fireplaces and a winding spiral staircase. Up the street is the Schofield House, a two-story tavern house built in 1815. In 1818, Masons from across the state met here to form the Grand Lodge of Indiana.
Our last stop is the imposing Lanier Mansion, another Greek revival home overlooking the Ohio River. Considered the “crown jewel” of the Madison Historic District, it belonged to James F.D. Lanier, a highly successful business leader with 11 children.
Back on the American Queen, it’s time for lunch, so we head to the main dining room where they are serving an express buffet. Along with roast turkey and dressing, we both had to try the Coco-Cola Green Beans, which had a slightly sweet taste.
In the afternoon, a river expert gave an informative lecture on “Discover the River,” providing numerous facts and stories about the waterway we’re traversing. For example, she said its muddy color is the result of rainfall. She also said we would go through 13 locks on the way to our final destination, Pittsburgh.
That was followed by the Captain’s Welcome Reception in the Grand Saloon, where we met the boat’s officers and raised a champagne toast to our voyage. The captain told us the boat would average six miles an hour as we traveled upstream.
There’s no mistaking when it’s time to sail away to our next destination. If you are in the vicinity of the River Grill and Bar on deck 5, you’ll get an ear-splitting melody of old-time favorites played on a on a steam calliope. Thankfully, the barkeeper keeps a bottle of earplugs for the occasion.
Next up, the early entertainment show at the Grand Saloon. Tonight’s offering is a “Southern Celebration,” featuring a quartet of singers and dancers, along with the house band, the Steamboat Syncopators. It’s a spirited, fast-paced production. As the show starts, Pam takes note of a second level of what look to be private boxes for suite owners. Upon checking with a housekeeper, she discovers there is one open for regular folks like us — nice!
During dinner in main dining, we take note that everything seems suddenly darker. Looking outside our window table, we see a solid wall going by. That can only mean we have entered our first lock. Having seen locks in action at the Panama Canal and German rivers, it’s an interesting process to watch.
Not ready to call it a night, we gravitate to the Engine Room Bar, where musicians Jay and Logan are taking requests and delivering rock and roll tunes in front of a backdrop of spinning paddlewheel blades seen in porthole windows. We even get to try out our dancing shoes along with other late night revelers.
Tomorrow we dock in Cincinnati. Until then.
PHOTOS by Gerry Barker
- The Lanier Mansion in Madison, Indiana
- The captain at the welcome reception
- The Saddletree Factory in Madison
- The American Queen transverses the first of 13 locks (cover photo)
See sailings here American Queen Voyages Cruises (cruisecompete.com)