Chautauqua Belle ResurgencePosted by Richard Benedetto on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 at 8:02pm.
MAYVILLE - Although the Chautauqua Belle travels in honor of past steamboat traditions on Chautauqua Lake, it will have some new features of its own this year.
Matt Stage, president of U.S. Stearn Lines LTD, which operates the Belle, said a number of projects are under way to keep the replica of the past in tune for future voyages. For instance, he said, the steel in the hull of the Belle's bow section is being replaced this year, and the boiler system and generator of the 100-foot vessel were replaced last year. Stage said it is a replica of steamboats that carried 3,000 people across Chautauqua Lake before railroads became modes of transportation. It is a replica of Mississippi boats and was built in 1975 by the same architect who built those used there.
When the Belle was put up for auction in 2007, Stage bought it, after being afraid it would otherwise be scrapped.
"Everyone was used to having steamboats on the lake," he said, adding he wanted to keep that a reality."It's authentic," he said about steamboats on the lake being part of the area's history.
Bringing that back to passengers, he said, has led him to hear stories of grandparents bringing grandchildren for a ride and telling him how they, too, rode the steamboats with grandparents. One, he said, was moved to tears. Stage also has a story of a boat and his grandfather, who can be seen working alongside him on the Belle.
"It's important to learn what our forefathers went through," said Dell Stage, who has been helping Matt with Belle repairs recently.
He said knowing history helps youth understand, "we have it pretty good today," he said. Besides, said Dell, the Belle helps make the local economy strong, as people from across the country and Europe have come to ride it, and some come annually.
"People from the area are dumbfounded (to learn of the region's history)," the elder Stage said, adding they do not realize the excursions that brought people to "the hub" that is Chautauqua County.
"The nostalgia of a boat like this creates happy memories," Stage said.
His memories of it may be why he will travel to give the boat's architect, Alan Bates, a plaque with part of the original paddles from the Belle, when Bates is initiated into the National Rivers Hall of Fame on April 30 to receive its Lifetime Achievement Award given to less than 100 people in 140 years. Stage said Bates is one of the last steamboat architects, learning to design steamboats and designing the Belle for James Webster.
"I really want to thank him," Stage said.
Stage said without Bates' work, the Belle would not be as beautiful. Stage, who plans to attend Bates' initiation ceremony, will present him a framed "I Love New York" poster featuring the Chautauqua Belle as the image of the year. Stage has his own words for Bates, too. He said Bates designed "a one-of-a-kind piece of working American history," when designing the Belle - one of only four such vessels still in operation.
Planned Chautauqua Belle events for the coming year include: Chautauqua Idol Cruises, narrated historic cruises between Mayville and Chautauqua Institution, picnics on the paddle wheel, cruising and cocktails, firework cruises and rock on the docks. Private parties on the Chautauqua Belle can also be booked.
According to its Web site, the Belle is the largest and most historic vessel on the lake, providing four daily trips seven days a week to Chautauqua Institution from Mayville. Trips are about one hour and 45 minutes.
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