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Want To Own A Piece Of Illinois River History? The Julia Belle Swain Is Up For Sale

Pinnacle Marine Corporation

The Julia Belle Swain is a familiar sight to many Peorians. The steam-powered paddleboat was stationed here throughout the 1970s and 1980s, regularly shuttling passengers up and down the Illinois River.

The boat has since moved around the country, eventually ending up in LaCrosse, Wisc. A nonprofit's restoration efforts underway for the last several years folded recently, and the ship is now up for grabs for just under $1 million.

Rob McMahon of Pinnacle Marine Corporation is brokering the Julia Belle Swain's sale. He said it's undergone about $2.6 million in renovations, but still needs another $900,000 or so of investments to become fully waterworthy again.

"There's a great structure there right now for someone to come in, finish off the renovation, and have a great opportunity to run one of the last steamboats in the country," he said.

The Julia Belle Swain was built in 1971. It's the last ship constructed by Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works of Dubuque, Iowa.

The ship was used in the 1973 film Tom Sawyer, and the 1974 film Huckleberry Finn, based off the classic Mark Twain novels.

"I'm probably prejudiced, but it's probably one of the prettiest paddleboats certainly in existence now, but over history as well," McMahon said. "But I think the beauty is, it not only has the steam opportunity, but it now has an additional propeller, so it gives it some additional flexibility as far as operations."

The boat has a passenger capacity of 149. McMahon said it's already attracting significant interest from prospective buyers.

He said the boat could continue to remain based in LaCrosse or move elsewhere, depending on who purchases it.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.