May/Jun 2004

Above: The grand staircase on the Delta Queen, which will be among the vessels particpating in the Grand Flotilla.

Below: Top: Huge crowds will gather along the route of the Grand Flotilla to experience all the pageantry and excitement. Seven steamboats will participate in the journey, along with a variety of other craft.

Before You Go
For information on community events and more, call 1-866-GEX-2004 (866-439-2004) or visit www.grandexcursion.com.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, a travel partner with AAA, has cruise packages for the Grand Excursion, but was close to selling out at press time. For an update or more details on other steamboat cruises offered on America’s greatest rivers, contact your AAA Travel agent.

Information on rail excursions is available at www.grandexcursion.com, or by calling 1-866-GEX-2004.

For the truly hearty, a 400-mile bike ride is planned to depart Rock Island, Ill., on June 27 and arrive in Saint Paul, Minn., on July 4. For information, call (563) 386-7157. Riders must register by June 1.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

To commemorate a similar voyage 150 years ago, a grand flotilla of
steamboats and other craft will glide up the Mississippi River this summer.
By Patricia Treacy

rumpets will blast, marchers will parade, fireworks will explode and crowds will cheer. It’s Grand Excursion 2004, a series of yearlong events commemorating a similar voyage staged some 150 years ago.

Historic happenings of 1854

In 1854, the Rock Island Railroad Company’s trains chugged along the tracks from Chicago to Rock Island, Ill., the first rail connection to the upper Mississippi River. To celebrate, one of the railroad contractors proposed an excursion for stockholders and friends.

Word spread quickly and the entourage grew to 1,200 people, all guests of the Rock Island Railroad Company. Politicians, including former President Millard Fillmore, businessmen and journalists boarded five steamers in Rock Island and traveled to St. Paul, Minn. The travelers then climbed into carriages and wagons and rode to the Falls of Saint Anthony, now known as Minneapolis.

The steamboat expedition brought worldwide attention to what was then America’s wild western frontier. It catapulted Minnesota into statehood and doubled the amount of river traffic the next year.

Grand Excursion 2004

Ten years ago, a handful of people in the Twin Cities began to discuss the opportunity to re-create the Grand Excursion. By the end of 2001, Grand Excursion 2004 had incorporated as a non-profit organization to orchestrate the event. Jay Downie was hired as president and chief executive officer. Downie was one of the designers of Tall Stacks 1988, a display of riverboats in Cincinnati.

“The purpose of the event is to enhance the environmental, recreational and commercial aspects of the upper Mississippi River,” Downie said.
The $16-million undertaking includes celebratory events and capital improvements along the 400-mile stretch of the river.

“We expect between 600,000 and 700,000 people to attend events throughout the year. Between 3,000 and 5,000 volunteers are involved. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun,” said Downie. “And the incredible thing is everyone is really interested in the Mississippi River and in telling its story.”

The Grand Flotilla

The Grand Flotilla will glide up the Mississippi River from Rock Island, Ill., to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., between June 25 and July 4. The seven vessels will be the largest fleet of steamboats on the Mississippi River in more than a century. The Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen, carrying a total of 600 passengers, are two of the seven steamboats in the Flotilla. They will leave St. Louis, Mo., on June 23 for Rock Island and will continue on to the Twin Cities.

A variety of other riverboats, barges and pleasure craft are expected to join the flotilla at various points along the way.

On June 25, a steam locomotive, the Milwaukee 261, will pull a train from Chicago to Rock Island, where passengers can board boats and join the flotilla. Various rail excursions will continue along the flotilla route.
The flow of events

Fifty-four communities will whoop it up when the flotilla reaches their docks. Here is a sampling of events along the way.

Galena, Ill., was the first stop on the original Grand Excursion, but the river changed in the last 150 years. An exhibit shows the present day banks compared to the boundaries of the Galena River as they were in 1854.

Moline, Ill., created a Peace Garden for the event. On June 25–27, the Taste of the Quad Cities will feature entertainment, food and an area for children.

In Dubuque, Iowa, Dixieland music, barbeque and fireworks will celebrate Grand Excursion 2004 on June 27–29. Dubuque will unveil a $188-million riverfront to guests traveling the Grand Excursion. Explore the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

Cassville, Wis., will celebrate with an 1850s Promenade, a tour of its historic buildings and a riverfront fireworks display during Stars and Stripes Days, June 27.

When the voyage ends over the July 4th weekend in the Twin Cities, the welcome ceremony will include performers, bands and a salute to the history of the Mississippi’s fishing and barge industries. A 100-voice choir will entertain over the weekend, according to Chris Oshikata of the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.

“A mingling of the water ceremony occurred in 1854 when a businessman from the East Coast brought a vial of water from the Atlantic Ocean and poured it into the river,” said Oshikata.

This year, former vice president Walter Mondale has invited past U.S. presidents and representatives from the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze Rivers to bring vials of their water to pour into a cauldron to symbolically mingle with the Mississippi.

The Taste of Minnesota on the riverfront will have arts, crafts, children’s activities and family fun. The Minnesota Institute of Arts will open their new riverside park with exhibits in June. The Governor’s Mississippi River Celebration will be held on the Centennial Showboat with performances of Mark Twain by Hal Holbrook. A fireworks extravaganza will highlight the weekend.

The events in the Twin Cities should be a fitting climax to 400 miles of parties celebrating the renaissance of the upper Mississippi valley.

Patricia Treacy is a contributor from St. Louis.

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