Editor's Note: This is the 270th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — For 14 summers, the sternwheeler "Camden Queen" took passengers on a 45-minute ride from Camden Park's landing on Twelve Pole Creek. The craft, a small reproduction of an Ohio River packet boat from the 1890s, was owned and operated by Capt. Gene Lister.
The boat was built in 1974 by John Louck in West Bend, Wisconsin, and originally named the "City of West Bend." Lister bought it in 1977 and brought it to Huntington, where he refurbished it and renamed it the "Camden Queen." The two-deck, 60-passenger boat began operating out of Camden Park in April 1978. During its stay at the park it operated each summer from April to September.
A self-confessed "river rat," Lister fell in love with the Ohio when as a teenage deckhand he worked aboard the steamers "Omar" and "E.D. Kenna." He dreamed of some day returning to the river, and his purchase of the "Camden Queen" made that dream a reality.
In 1985, Lister pulled off a difficult feat. Dodging snags, sandbars and overhanging trees, he piloted his sternwheeler up the Guyandotte to the Mud River at Barboursville. Veteran river historian Jim Wallen told the Herald-Dispatch no riverboat had made the trip from the Ohio, up the Guyandotte to the Barboursville landing since 1902.
Initially, the "Queen" did a brisk business but over time the number of passengers dwindled. Discouraged, Lister put the boat up for sale but attracted no bidders.
In April 1992, Lister moved the "Queen" from Huntington to Madison, Indiana, where it ran excursions from a floating restaurant. The following year, in July 1993, he sold the boat to a tour boat operator in Columbia, Louisiana, which gave it a new name, the "Caldwell Belle."
In 2010, Lister was again at the pilot wheel when the 149-passenger sternwheeler "Mark Twain" visited Huntington to give sightseeing and dinner cruises.