Photo by Wes Schmidgall.
PEORIA — The Illinois River floodwaters along the Peoria riverfront didn’t stop people from celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Spirit of Peoria on April 29.
The yearlong celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Spirit of Peoria began on the same day the Illinois River was officially cleared for traffic, days after a historic flood closed traffic on the river.
Among the few dozen people that attended the kickoff celebration was Norm Rittenhouse, who designed the paddleboat’s propulsion system, and was one of the crew members who first brought the Spirit of Peoria to the Peoria riverfront on April 29, 1988, after a four-day boat trip that started in Paducah, Ky.
“There wasn’t as much water 25 years ago, but it’s very similar, I guess,” said Rittenhouse. “They had bands playing and cameras going off. Today, 25 years later, this boat is every bit as good as the day it left Paducah, and in some ways it’s better.”
Major improvements have been done to the Spirit of Peoria, one of the few remaining and functioning true paddle boats, during the past 25 years.
“We have done some major improvements; from our new wool carpets to a major overhaul of one of our Caterpillar 3412 engines,” said Spirit of Peoria Captain Alex Grieves.
As part of the yearlong celebration, the Spirit of Peoria has added an extra Saturday public sightseeing cruise for the public. It has also planned a 4-night, 5-day trip to Hannibal Mo., the childhood home of author Mark Twain that will start July 13.
“This will be the Spirit’s first time stopping at Hannibal,” said Grieves.
On the first day of the Hannibal Cruise, the Spirit of Peoria will travel down the Illinois River and through two locks and dams. At the end of the first day, the Spirit of Peoria will land in Meredosia. Motorcoaches will transport passengers from Meredosia to the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Springfield, where they will stay during the first night of the cruise. After breakfast at the hotel, tour participants will tour the Illinois State Museum, and then have lunch on the Spirit of Peoria while proceeding down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, before landing in Grafton. Tour participants will spend the second night of the cruise at the Pere Marquette Lodge, located in the largest state park in Illinois. On the third day of the excursion, the Spirit of Peoria will travel north, 55 miles up the Mississippi River, before landing in Clarksville, Mo. Motorcoaches will transport cruise participants from Clarksville to the Best Western Plus that is located on the Hannibal riverfront. On the fourth day of the excursion, cruise participants will be given a guided tour of Hannibal and then travel through two locks and dams located in the Mississippi River, before returning back to Hannibal for sightseeing and shopping. The next day, cruise participants will tour Mark Twain’s boyhood home and then visit the Historic Star Theatre for lunch, before boarding a motorcoach for a leisurely ride back to Peoria.
Ticket prices for the Hannibal Cruise range from $475-1,135.
Also part of the celebration, a three-day, two-night Land of Lincoln Cruise has been planned for May 15-18. The first two days of the Land of Lincoln Cruise will be identical to the first two days of the Hannibal Cruise. The final day of the cruise will conclude with a boat ride to Alton, as well as a bus tour of the city and motorcoach ride back to Peoria.
Ticket prices for the Land of Lincoln Cruise range from $250-635.
Several other themed cruises are planned for the spring and summer.
Docked along the Peoria riverfront at 100 Water St., Peoria, the Spirit of Peoria attracts people from outside of the greater Peoria area, said Grieves.
“Most of our ridership comes from outside the Peoria area,” said Grieves. “Eighty percent of our overnight riders come from 3-5 hours away and we have been getting more and more international passengers.”
The Spirit of Peoria has seen an increase in its ridership during the past 10 years, said Grieves.
“The first 10 years were quite a challenge, but I would have to say over the last 10 years we have seen a larger increase in our ridership,” said Grieves.
The Spirit of Peoria is modeled after a historic steamboat from the mid-1800s, when Peoria’s thriving riverfront would host multiple steamboats every day.
To book a cruise on the Spirit of Peoria, visit www.spiritofpeoria.com.