Levee has long been Marietta’s welcome mat

The visit last weekend by the American Duchess returned Marietta to what it has always been, a stop for sternwheelers visiting the upper Ohio River. She stopped again on Wednesday during the trip downriver.

Marietta was settled where it is because of the proximity to the rivers. Boat building was a key industry in the early history of Marietta, with craftsmen using native timber to construct boats, not only for river traffic, but also ships that would be sent down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to sail the oceans of the world.

Before roads brought everything to Marietta and before railroads ever arrived, anything needed in Marietta came by water. That delivery of goods would happen at the Ohio River levee. The levee, of course, is not really a levee, it’s a landing. A levee is a raised berm of earth that keeps the water out, our levee is neither raised nor a flood control device. At some point, the name stuck and collectively we all call it a levee, so it is a levee.

Marietta is well suited for the visits of sternwheelers. The tie-ups for them are a permanent part of the riverbanks. An ample water supply waits for a connection by a deckhand at the end of Second Street, and the ramp leads passengers directly to Front Street. The cobblestones of the levee extend well offshore. The river was shallower before the large dams were built on the Ohio River. If you boat near the levee when the water is clear you can look down and see the stones teaming with small fish.

The purpose of the riverboats’ visits has changed over the centuries. They once brought goods for area people to buy. They now bring people to buy goods and services from area businesses. It was good for the economy then, and it is good for it now.

Page two today features a photo of the levee with several sternwheelers tied up alongside the wharf boat that was used as a sort of floating warehouse to move goods on and off passing riverboats.

Visiting passenger sternwheelers full of people wanting to see the heart of America is nothing new for Marietta. They have been arriving for decades. The Delta Queen once made regular stops in Marietta. It will likely make visits in the future as its owners work to return it to regular service. The more modern Mississippi Queen followed the success of the Delta Queen and it too made regular stops in Marietta. They even both docked here at the same time once, making for a very crowded riverbank.

It was once on board the Mississippi Queen that I hitched a ride for a story as it traveled upstream to Willow Island. The large craft lacked the gingerbread of the Delta Queen but made up for it in sheer size. It was so tall it had to lower its stacks to get under the I-77 bridge. The boat has since been retired.

The new breed of boats, such as the American Duchess, are built to look more like authentic riverboats. More decorative trim on the outside, while providing passengers on the inside with the utmost is luxury. The visit is the first of many this year. The American Queen will visit twice at the start of July and the Queen of the Mississippi will stop five times in August and September. The levee, of course, will also be home to the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival this fall.

If Marietta had a front door, it would be the rivers, and the levee would be the welcome mat, inviting people to walk the short distance from the riverfront to Front Street.

Art Smith is online manager for The Times and a long-time photographer for the newspaper. He can be reached at



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