Our History

Founded in 1969 by Capt. William D. Bowell, Sr. and his wife Lillian Bowell, the Padelford Riverboat Co. operates from Harriet Island Regional Park in downtown St. Paul, MN. Padelford Riverboats have entertained more than five million passengers.

Today, the company is owned and managed by Gus and Tammy Gaspardo, plus a team of experienced river professionals with many years of service in the company. Their journey on the river has been a remarkable one. Gus started in 1984, looking for a summer job while attending college. Over the course of the next 34 years, he became a senior deckhand, captain, operations manager, general manager, vice president, and finally president.

In 1989, Tammy was hired as a deckhand. She worked her way up the ranks from deckhand to sales manager and vice president. Tammy and Gus have been married for 25 years and are the proud parents of Samantha and James.

The company began with a single vessel, the Jonathan Padelford. Built in 1969 at Dubuque Boat and Boiler Co., the Padelford is an authentic sternwheeler, although the traditional steam propulsion system has been replaced by a safer, highly efficient hydraulic pressure system. Two years after completion, the Padelford was taken to a shipyard in Lemont, IL, where it was cut in two, and a 20-ft section was added at midship. This increased capacity and made the overall length 125 ft with a 24-ft beam.

Expansion into Minneapolis occurred in 1988 with the construction of the 300-passenger sidewheeler Anson Northrup. Built in Jennings, LA, the Northrup arrived on Saturday, June 18, 1988, just in time for its first private charter. Public excursions began on Father’s Day on June 19.

Two years later, the Brandon Paul, a former car/truck ferry from Tiptonville, KY, was renamed the Betsey Northrup and converted to a passenger barge. The Betsey Northrup was transformed into a two-deck, 300-passenger party barge. The main deck was enclosed, while the second deck was left open and covered for maximum sightseeing. The Betsey Northrup provides great versatility for Padelford Co. in that it can be operated separately when pushed by the towboat Ugh the Tug, or it can be attached to the riverboat Anson Northrup to create one large boat capable of carrying 600 passengers.

In 2003, Padelford Riverboat Co. moved all boats to Harriet Island in downtown St. Paul. Consolidation of all equipment into a single location provided greater efficiency, cost control, and better on-site management. Most significantly, consolidation enabled Padelford to reduce its fleet size to three passenger vessels without sacrificing service, although greater scheduling expertise was required.

In 2014, Padelford expanded its operation building to include a full-service kitchen featuring locally sourced quality ingredients.


Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works.
Dubuque IA, 1969

The bow taking shape

Johnathan Padelford – 1969

Johnathan Padelford – 1969

Capt. Bowell checking in

Johnathan Padelford – 1969

Preparing for launch

Sink or float?


The Johnathan Padelford up in St. Paul

Sign Up for Our Newsletter!