Madison Monday: Steamboat celebrations and more

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Hops display at Brew, Brew, Brew and Brew

It was a jam-packed weekend in Madison. Saturday was Soup, Stew, Chili and Brew on Main St. This event involves many local organizations fixing up big crock pots full of various soups, stews and chili’s and serving them up to hungry crowds. There’s music and a bouncy thing for kids, but mostly just yummy food on Main St. It was perfect weather this weekend for the event…not too hot and not too cold with some beautiful sunshine. This year we were able to reap the advantages of children with cell phones, as we could send them all off in a large gaggle, and call them back on their cell phones when needed. This also made it possible for us grown-ups to sample beers at this year’s new event, Brew, Brew, Brew and Brew.

Somewhere in the history of Soup, Stew, Chili and Brew, the brew (as in beer) kind of disappeared. Some good folks in town this year set up a local beer tasting on Main St., boldly putting the “brew” back in Soup, Stew, Chili and Brew. We sampled beers from our new Madison brewery, currently served at Sakka Blue. And the always outstanding New Albanian folks. There were also beers out of Indianapolis and Aurora. And some interesting beer-related art on the walls. And all of it was free. A great addition to this yearly event.

Artwork from Brew….

The rest of the weekend in Madison was all about steam and Jefferson County’s bicentennial. There was a Legacy of Steam Power event at the Lanier Mansion which featured all kinds of steam-powered machines belching sooty water and steam into the air. The Belle of Cincinnati and Belle of Louisville paddleboats arrived on Friday afternoon. There were many cruises to choose from, and a race on Saturday afternoon. There were some logistical problems with some of the cruises due to the high winds on Saturday, but the lines for folks wanting to tour the two ships were long on Saturday afternoon. And it’s always just a beautiful thing to see two paddleboats pulled up on the riverside.

Because I am a very important person (which means that by some strange fluke I was appointed to serve on the Riverfront Development Committee), my husband and I were invited to the Bicentennial Ball cruise on the Belle of Louisville on Saturday night, hosted by President of Hanover College Sue DeWine. The Belle of Cincinnati is a lovely ship, and part of the B&B Riverboat fleet. These ships do a lot of work, taking folks back and forth across the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Reds and Bengals games. Because I grew up in Northern Kentucky, I’ve been on the Belle of Cincinnati a few times…going to games or on field trips as a kid. So I was quite glad to be able to check out the Belle of Louisville, which was something new.

The Belle of Louisville dates only to about 1914, but can still run on steam. Granted, the steam is powered by diesel fuel instead of coal or wood, but it still makes those steamy type noises. When you go outside and listen to the sound of the steam, you begin to get the feeling that you are riding on some great hulking beast. Especially when the sound speeds up and slows down depending on how fast you’re going. When we were cruising down the river, it was like a panting dog who’d been playing a vigorous game of fetch. When we slowed down to cruise into the landing, it sounded like a winded horse recovering from a race. Either way, there seemed something much more organic and life-like about the sound of a machine being powered by steam. Breathing is, after all, something all of us do.

Everyone was dressed up for the ball, and the large dining room inside the Belle was gorgeous. The meal was lovely and the music was nice. But the best part of the cruise was when the ship started moving, and after dinner when folks began to gravitate up and out towards the decks above. You could see the Belle of Cincinnati running next to us for a while, lit up with the people visible moving about. And then the moon rose over the valley walls. There was a local woman, a great friend of the college on board. She’s in her 80s and grew up riding a riverboat to Coney Island in Cincinnati, and dancing at Moonlite Gardens. The ride on the Belle of Louisville brought back a song about the Ohio River which they would dance to at Moonlight Gardens, and she sang a little bit for us.



Dining room on the Bell of Louisville

I’m not a historian of steamboat travel on the Ohio River in the 19th century, so I have no idea how much our cruise felt like it might have then. I know it was magical. Watching the paddle wheel churn the water. Gazing out at the dark shore, sprinkled with lights and the occasional flash of a camera as someone tried to capture the sight of two fully lit steamboats churning down the river. The way the light from the boat reflected on the surface of the river. The sound of the string band playing in the dining room floating out along the river mixed with people’s voices laughing and talking. And then the uniquely harmonic noise the steamboat makes when it stops or turns around. Not quite as raucous as a train, but perhaps more musical.
The Delta Queen used to come to Madison on a regular basis, and it was sad when it stopped. There was clearly a great interest in the boats around Madison, so great thanks to The Rivers Institute at Hanover College who helped put this event together. There’ll be another steamboat coming in May, so if you get the chance, check it out.

In addition to all of this, there was also an air show up at the Madison Municipal Airport, which we could just simply not fit in. Soup, Stew, Chili and Brew is kind of the bookend of the festival season in Madison. Now there’s only the Christmas parade left, and then the long wait for folk festival (now renamed the Roots Festival) in May. But fall and winter bring their own enjoyments. The satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot. Carving pumpkins. Halloween. Apple cider. Football and flannel sheets. Have a great fall!

If you like You Think Too Much, and to see more pictures from this weekend, like it on Facebook, here.

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