Kane County History: The Story of St. Charles’ Paddlewheel Riverboats
- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Tim Kirsininkas, marketing manager for the St. Charles History Museum. Images are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.
For more than 70 years, summertime on the Fox River in St. Charles has been defined by a pair of rose-adorned sternwheelers gently churning up and down the Fox River.
For the first time ever, the iconic St. Charles paddlewheel riverboats have set sail under new ownership, as the St. Charles Park District took over operations in March, purchasing the Fox River Queen and St. Charles Belle II from their longtime owners and operators, the Anderson family.
The company began as Chester “Chet” Anderson purchased a $200 refurbished boat called the Honeymoon Queen in 1945 and began giving rides from his home located in Pottawatomie Park, which still stands next to the boat docks to this day.
Anderson and his wife, Barbara, together started the cruise operation that would eventually become known as the St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats. As the Andersons’ business grew in popularity, their boats were replaced several times, each time becoming bigger and more modern.
The original St. Charles Belle, constructed in the early 1970s, was the first boat Anderson owned to sport the signature classic sternwheeler look, which mirrored vessels of the same type from the late 1800s. The new boat brought a distinct charm and a beautiful sense of style to cruising on the Fox River, and following the construction of this boat, his family business took off in popularity.
This particular vessel was replaced by the fully custom-built and modernized double deck St. Charles Belle II in 1981, closely followed by its sister boat, the Fox River Queen in 1987. At this point, Chet’s son Rich took over the operation, and he and his father regularly captained both boats together.
Rich served as the proud owner and operator of the paddleboats for nearly 30 years until his retirement last fall.
The boats have been the definition of a family-run affair, and have become a true St. Charles summer tradition for plenty of families all around the St. Charles area. The boats hold a special place in the hearts of many as a venue for weddings, family reunions, birthday and retirement parties, and so much more.
Generations of Andersons and their family friends (including myself) also worked aboard the vessels as their first paying summer job.
In fact, when recognizing Chet and Barbara with the prestigious Charlemagne Award for lifetime achievement and dedication to the St. Charles community in 1986, Mayor Fred Norris made sure to personally thank both of them for providing him with his first paying job as well.
These beautiful boats and their homegrown story are something that St. Charles can truly be proud of, and rest assured, the Andersons’ legacy and the generations of family memories these boats carry will be in good hands with the members of the St. Charles Park District at the helm.
- FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: The first commercial boat on the Fox River, S.S. Pacific, pictured at Pottawatomie Park circa 1910.
‘History Happy Hour’ July 25 Aboard The Fox River Queen
The Fox River in St. Charles is a scenic corridor of beauty that runs right through the heart of St. Charles that is also rich in history!
Join the St. Charles History Museum aboard the Fox River Queen from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 25 to learn about the rich history of the Fox River Valley.
You’ll learn about how the river helped to form the many communities that exist today along the river, some of the other historic commercial boats that have operated on the waterway like the S.S. Pacific, and historic locations along the river route like the famous Al Capone hideaway. Appetizers and two drink tickets included!
Visit www.stcmuseum.org/events for more information and to buy tickets.
New Exhibit Ties St. Charles’ To The Titanic
Our exhibit Tip of the Iceberg: St. Charles’ Ties to the Titanic explores the experiences of three particular passengers from different classes aboard the ship when it sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.
Third class passengers Alice Berg Johnson and her two children, Harold and Eleanor, were heading home to St. Charles when they boarded the Titanic and narrowly escaped the sinking. Molly Brown is highlighted as the First Class passenger because of her actions during and after the sinking.
The Caldwell family’s story is told because not only were they traveling home to Illinois, but they were also incredibly lucky as they survived the sinking as a whole family.
The exhibit is open during the museum’s regular hours, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. More information available at www.stcmuseum.org.
Read The Kane County History Series!
- 1850-1925 Geneva — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword
- St. Charles Museum Site — From Serving Gas To Preserving History
- Elgin Puts 3,500 Priceless Photos Online
- Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation
- Aurora’s Maud Powell, World Famous Violinist
- Waxing Nostalgic on Geneva’s WGSB, WFXW
- American Doughboys of WWI — in St. Charles, IL
- Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event
- Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
- Meet Andy Aurora, Man About Town
- Celebrating The 50th Anniversary of 9-1-1 in Geneva
- Blue Goose And Evergreen Pub — ‘Shop Local’ 90 Years In The Making
- Elgin Is The Apple of Illinois Bicentennial’s Eye
- Nordens Soner And Batavia’s Swedish Society
- Aurora’s Melting Pot ‘Yearning To Breathe Free’
- Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The ‘Life Cup’ — All Things Made in Geneva
- Hotel Baker, The ‘Masterpiece’ of The Fox Valley
- Elgin Celebrates Our Once-Burgeoning Dairy Business
- Reflections of Batavia’s Quarry Beach Pool
- Aurora’s Mabel O’Donnell, Author of “Alice And Jerry’ Books
- As Alice (Davis) Says, ‘Schools Out For Summer!’
- Elgin Watches, ‘The World’s Standard’
- Aurora Silverplate a Symbol of Good Taste
- Women Leaders Played Huge Roles in Geneva
- Nationally Renowned Summer Camp in St. Charles
- The Harrowing Story of William Lynch, Elgin’s Civil War Brigadier General
- Batavia Powered The Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway
- Corsets Doing Big Business in Aurora? Scandalous!
- One Block of Geneva Tells 1,001 Fantastic Stories
- St. Charles’ Evergreen Pub — The ‘Before’ Photos
- 1917-18 — When Elgin Artists Went to War
- Thomas Cleveland — Batavia’s Presidential Connection
- Do Your Wurst — Aurora Meat Markets Are ‘In’ Again
- Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts
- Visit Amelia Anderson At St. Charles’ North Side Cemetery
- Calling All Artists! … For a Cobblestone Reflection in Elgin
- Batavia’s 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way
- The Compelling, Tragic Story of Aurora’s Black WWI Hero Frank Boger
- Geneva History Museum Invites Artists To Celebrate Cultural Heritage
- Elgin’s Anson Clark Soared in The Great War … And Life
- What It Meant To Be a Patrol Boy and Louise White School
- ‘Men’s Night’ Christmas Shopping Was a 1950’s Aurora Phenomenon
- St. Charles Remembers Colson’s Christmas-Day Fire of ’33
- The Art of Elgin’s Cobblestone Reflections
- When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia
- Geneva Presents The Art of The Fox River
- Blansford Astronomical Clock Is Aurora’s Treasure
- St. Charles Returns Family Heirlooms From WWII
- Museum Lands Painting By Elgin Artist Albert Kenney
- Cars Still Fixed at Historic Location in Downtown Batavia
- A Bird’s-Eye View of 19th Century Geneva
- Sheldon Peck: Kane County’s Connection To The Underground Railroad
- Elgin High School Celebrates 150 Years of ‘Education For All’
- Batavia’s Incredible Roller Skating History
- The Fabled History of Jewelry Stores in Geneva
- Astonishing Buried Treasure Discovered in Aurora Outhouse
- Lincoln Elementary School in St. Charles Celebrates 90 Years of Education
- Remembering Elgin High Grad, Renowned Composer Daniel Brewbaker, 1951 – 2017
- Meet Batavia’s Sharron Moran, LPGA Star, ‘Most Beautiful Golfer’ of 1966
- The Many Iterations of Geneva’s National Food Store
- The Burlington Zephyr — A ‘Silver Streak’ Through Aurora
- What IS That Thing in Downtown St. Charles?
- 18 Events, Limited-Edition Poster For Preservation Month in Elgin!
- Julius Amandus Anderson’s WWI Memorial Trapunto Banner
- Geneva’s Swedish Days Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary
- The Historic Drive To Save Aurora’s GAR Hall