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Padelford Company History

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

Capt. Bowell retired in 2001 and sold the company to his nephew Steve Bowell and daughters Shelley Bowell Kosmo and Beth Bowell Myers. Today the company is owned and managed by Steve Bowell, Beth Myers and Gus Gaspardo plus a team of experienced river professionals with many years of service in the company. In addition to three U.S. Coast Guard licensed passenger vessels the Padelford management company operates the permanently moored Minnesota Centennial Showboat Theater in partnership with the University of Minnesota.

The company began with a single vessel, the Jonathan Padelford. (View Pictures of the Padelford's Construction) Built in 1969 at Dubuque Boat and Boiler Co., Dubuque, IA, the Padelford is an authentic sternwheeler although the traditional steam propulsion system has been replaced by a safer, highly efficient hydraulic pressure system.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 foot section was added at midship. The lengthening increased capacity and made the overall length 125 feet with a 24-foot beam.

Expansion into Minneapolis occurred in 1988 with 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, June 19.

Two years later the Brandon Paul, a former car/truck ferry from Tiptonville, KY, was renamed 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 but was 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 and the Showboat Theater without sacrificing service although greater scheduling expertise was required.

Before retiring in 2001 Capt. Bowell completed his service to the company by supervising construction of the new Minnesota Centennial Showboat for the University of Minnesota. The original Showboat, built in 1899, was acquired by the University in 1958 as a part of the state’s centennial program and was converted into a theater. After serving students and audiences for many years the showboat was badly in need of repair. In 2000 a welder’s torch ignited a blaze that burned the old boat to the waterline. The University was unable to replace the Showboat with the available funds and the Padelford Co. volunteered to build the boat within the University’s budget. The Padelford Co. ended up contributing $300,000 to project and received a management contract with the University for the 225-seat theater and reception area.

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