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American Queen returning to Natchez

The familiar sight of the red paddle wheels of the American Queen steamboat churning in the Mississippi River will return to Natchez Monday. (Photo submitted by the American Queen)

NATCHEZ — A young Joan McLemore was totally star struck when she boarded a steamboat docked Under-the-Hill in Natchez in approximately 1946.

She was the editor of the Natchez High School student newspaper, The Echoes, and she’d been assigned to visit the boat on its maiden voyage.

“It was quite exciting,” she said. “All the people that were making those trips were wealthy people, and I was so impressed with all that.”

Natchez is expecting nearly as much excitement when another steamboat, the American Queen, powers in to town early Monday morning.

The American Queen — the only steam-powered boat on the Mississippi River these days — embarked on its first paid journey Friday after sitting unused for approximately five years.

The boat and approximately 430 passengers departed from New Orleans, stopped at Oak Alley and St. Francisville, La., and will arrive in Natchez between 7 and 8 a.m. Monday.

It will dock Under-the-Hill and passengers will be able to explore Natchez and the Miss-Lou until 5 p.m.

The stop will be the first of 15 planned in Natchez in 2012. A 2013 schedule will be released soon.

Labor of love

The American Queen originally started cruising the waters of the Mississippi River in 1995.

She followed in the footsteps of the Delta Queen, which had existed since 1926, and the Mississippi Queen, which started in 1976.

The former owners of the American Queen turned the boat over to the U.S. government in 2008. She docked in the care of the U.S. Department of Defense as a Navy vessel in Texas.

By 2009, no riverboats were docking in Natchez.

Monday’s return of the American Queen, now under new ownership, will change that.