Lowell Showboat Closed to the Public
City of Lowell, Wednesday, January 4, 2017 – For nearly 85 years, a showboat has been at the center of life, leisure and entertainment here in the City of Lowell. Its iconic image continues to represent our community to this very day with events such as the Riverwalk Festival, Lowell Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concerts, Lowell Christmas Festivities and Santa on the Lowell Showboat. The Lowell Showboat and these events has and will create lasting traditions for families and our community for years to come.
It is our shared belief that the current structure built in 1979 has served us well, it has outlived its expected lifespan. As age takes its toll on the fifth version of the Lowell Showboat, we have to reflect on its ability to continue to serve.
With keeping the health, safety and welfare of citizens in mind at all times, we have determined that the current Lowell Showboat will be closed to the public starting January 4, 2017. The Robert E. Lee’s long history and tradition in the community has made this a very difficult decision.
The tradition of Lowell and the Lowell Showboat will continue with your support. Volunteers are working to redevelop Lowell’s Showboat concept into a new and exciting structure. The “Rebuild the Lowell Showboat” committee will be hosting an informational meeting on Thursday, January 19th at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall to seek community input on the replacement structure.
In 1932 the people of Lowell, led by the Lowell Board of Trade and the American Legion, conceived an annual project which would lift the hearts of the people through the Great Depression and would become a true community event, drawing many groups together in a mutual effort and attracting statewide attention. This was the Lowell Showboat, a local talent show, unique in its format. Staged on a riverboat, with the islands and town providing an appropriate setting, music, dancing and the minstrel shows started a long Lowell tradition. The first performance was on August 10, 1932 and it was estimated that 7000 people attended the four night shows. The first Showboat was called the George Washington and was constructed on empty oil barrels. It was about sixty feet long, carried one deck and pilot house and two smoke stacks, and it was powered by outboard motors.
In 1935 a new boat, the Robert E. Lee, was built. This had two decks, was 90 feet long and 24 feet wide. It was driven by eight reversible outboard motors and incorporated a power plant to operate the lights. Showboat productions were canceled in 1942 through 1945 because of W.W.II. In 1946 Showboat once again brought joy to many hearts as it floated down the Flat River. A new boat was constructed in 1948 and again in 1967 at a cost of $11,383. By now, television stars were performing on the Showboat stage each year. Local talent still provided the chorus, endmen and amateur acts which appeared every evening.
A new Showboat amphitheater was constructed in 1974. Vice President Gerald R. Ford, who had so often come for Showboat as Congressman Ford, shaking many hands and giving autographs near the dock on Riverside Drive, assisted in the dedication of the new Showboat amphitheater.
Many will never forget the early morning wind on August 19, 1978. The Weather Bureau refused to call it a tornado, but it did a great deal of damage by lifting the Showboat from the river to smash it upside down on its dock. A “Refloat the Showboat” fund-raising campaign was organized. Help came from thousands of organizations and individuals. The response was unbelievable! With Jim Hall acting as designer, Lowell contractor Ivan Blough constructed a completely new Robert E. Lee, a beautiful new craft, glistening with fresh paint at her berth on the Flat River. This time it was a stern-wheeler with a raked superstructure, white gingerbread trim and improved flotation system.
The Showboat has not always had smooth sailing. Years of rained-out shows and unexpected production costs had placed the Showboat in debt. However, in the past year or so we have seen the debt paid off with the help of grants received from the Lowell Area Community Fund left to the community by Harold Englehardt.
Community awareness has increased the sense of urgency to preserve the showboat. A commitment from the Lowell High School Class of 1999 to preserve the Lowell Showboat as part of Lowell’s heritage not only for themselves but for future generations. As a result of their efforts, the Class of 1999 had the opportunity to host their graduation ceremony at the Showboat and Amphitheater.
Local composer Dennis Havens wrote a “Showboat City” march to honor showboats heritage.
Showboat Corp II dissolved and returned the Showboat to the City of Lowell and appointed The Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce as the managing agent.
The Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lowell Area Arts Council have joined together to bring an Annual Lowell Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series. The series is held every Thursday evening on the Riverwalk Plaza beginning in June and running through the mid August. The Showboat is the backdrop for many other activities throughout the year. It is our goal that Showboat continues to be an attraction and that it will remain vital and active in our community. The Showboat’s rightful place is in our community, attracting people to shop and play in Lowell.