Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat
The Hiawatha Riverboat is an old styled paddlewheel boat a part of the Susquehanna State Park. The boat is one of the most well known attractions in the Williamsport area and Central Pa. On the paddleboat you embark on a hour long boat ride up stream on the Susquehanna River. The riverboat today has been cruising the water since 1991. The Hiawatha has a variety of events and types of cruises you can choose to be a part of such as private parties, music concerts, field trips, group trips or casual trips with others going to enjoy the relaxing cruise up the Susquehanna and its beautiful scenery on the the water.
Backstory and Context
The Hiawatha we know today originated from another paddlewheel boat that was destroyed by the spring ice thaw of 1914 and in 1980 the name was used to show significance to the original. The name Hiawatha originated from an Iroquois Indian Chief who was responsible for uniting the Five Nations of Iroquois Confederacy in Pre-Colombian America. The Hiawatha is designed to look and feel like an old fashioned paddlewheel boat.
The original Hiawatha pre-1914 destruction used to take a total of 75 passengers from the Market Street pier to Sylvan Dell (Goose Island) four miles downstream, which was a popular recreation area around the turn of the century where people would go swimming, rent cabins, or go to a popular dance hall that was located there at the time. The boat ultimately was destroyed by the ice in 1914. Prior to the destruction it was said that the Hiawatha's days were numbered due to the Williamsport dam and the shallowing of the water.
In 1980, came a proposal from the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, lead by Don Holtzman to promote the cities heritage and to bring in tourists. A quote from Holtzman about bringing in tourist "Our goal is to develop attractions to keep people here, to drop some of their money here." The proposal stated the funds for the project would come from Lycoming County, the state, private contributors, and the chamber. The size of the boat in the original proposal was envisioned to be 64-foot long, 24-foot wide and travel nine miles of the trip. It was also mentioned that there eventually would be a sawmill or Shingle Mill on the river with the Hiawatha as attractions to the public.
Finally in 1982 a proposal was approved and hired a Georgia boat maker to conduct the 175,000 dollar project. The proposal approved the boat to be 75 to 80 feet long and 20 feet wide, and hold about 150 passengers. The hull was built to be V-shaped and would be propellor driven to replicate an old-time paddle-wheeler. They also wanted to fix one of the problems of the ice and shallowness the Hiawatha faced on the river which was the Hepburn Street dam. The state approved 6.72 million dollars to construct a new dam to support a deeper water and the redesign from the old dam that dated back to 1867. The city also built docks, ramps, souvenir shop, employee building and picnic tables around the state park for the Hiawatha. The construction finally ended by 1991 and launched the Hiawatha to continue cruising the Susquehanna River.
The boat today is for a relaxing leisure experience to enjoy the slow moving paddlewheel up the Susquehanna. The Hiawatha is a significant piece within the city of Williamsport bringing in thousands of people aboard and taking over hundreds of trips up the Susquehanna every year. The boat ride is about an hour long and you would board ten minutes before the scheduled departure. The overall ride is nine miles up the Susquehanna, you start at the Susquehanna State park and go nine miles upstream to Old Nippono Park, near Antes Fort. The boat then turns around and takes you back to Susquehanna State Park. The Hiawatha is a unique experience in a small town that is fitting to all people taking you away from your traditional boat ride. From that being able to eat, view scenery, listen to live music, party, and learning some history on board along the way.
Williamsport, PA Transportation Boat. 1900. Photograph. Thomas T. Taber Museum, Williamsport PA.
Hiawatha At Dock. July 19, 1983. Photograph. Thomas T. Taber Museum, Williamsport PA.
"C of C Launches Hiawatha Project." Sun Gazette Williamsport, (Williamsport, PA) April 12, 1982.
Cheney, Jim. "Cruising the Susquehanna River on Williamsport's Hiawatha Riverboat." UncoveringPA. Last modified August 19, 2019. https://uncoveringpa.com/hiawatha-riverboat-williamsport.
"Queen of the Susquehanna Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat." Access [Brochure]. Williamsport PA: Hiawatha Riverboat, 2004. Accessed from Thomas T. Taber Museum.
" Part-Owner of First Hiawatha Little Interested." Sun Gazette Williamsport, Williamsport PA, May 28, 1982. Page 25, Col 1.
Archives Thomas T. Taber Museum
Archives Thomas T. Taber Museum