The West Virginia Centennial showboat Rhododendron plied the Kanawha, Ohio, and Monongahela rivers in 1963 in celebration of the state’s 100th birthday. The showboat was created from the sternwheeler Omar, originally launched by the Ohio River Company of Cincinnati in 1935, decommissioned after 24 years of service, and given to the state in 1961. The following year, it was remodeled, leaving the boiler room and machinery used to power the paddlewheel intact as part of a river museum, and adding a 264-seat theater.
The Rhododendron made visits to Charleston, Montgomery, St. Albans, Winfield, Point Pleasant, Kenova, Huntington, Ravenswood, Parkersburg, Williamstown, St. Marys, Sistersville, New Martinsville, Moundsville, Wheeling, Wellsburg, Weirton, Chester, Morgantown, Fairmont, and Pittsburgh. Summer performances of Mrs. Henry Woods’s 1863 melodrama East Lynne were supplemented by local entertainment at each stop.
Because of low bridges in Pittsburgh, the showboat was unable to visit Morgantown until the fluted smokestacks were hinged and the pilothouse made adjustable. Then the Rhododendron triumphantly arrived in Morgantown on October 18, carrying the University of Pittsburgh football team to the annual ‘‘backyard brawl’’ for West Virginia University’s homecoming. In November, the Rhododendron journeyed to Cincinnati for a nine-day run of The Boyfriend, performed by the University of Cincinnati’s drama department. After the Centennial, the Rhododendron was sold to the town of Clinton, Iowa, where it became a river museum.
This Article was written by H. G. Young III
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Calvert, Lloyd P. Here Comes the Showboat. Travel West Virginia, (Summer 1963).
Final Report of the West Virginia Centennial Commission. 1963.