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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Historic Riverboat

It’s a hotel, restaurant and special events facility permanently moored at the Old Sacramento Riverfront now, but ninety-odd years ago the Delta King and its twin the Delta Queen plied the Sacramento River between San Francisco and Sacramento, with excursions up the San Joaquin River to Stockton.

When they were built, both ships were the most lavishly appointed and expensive sternwheeler passenger boats ever commissioned. Fabricated in Scotland, they were assembled in Stockton in 1927 and began regular service as replacements for the steamships Fort Sutter and Capital City. Both made their last regular runs in 1940, driven out of service by a new highway linking Sacramento and San Francisco.

For a year the Delta King was a Navy receiving ship in San Francisco for reservists; then the attack on Pearl Harbor rushed both steamers into service as emergency hospital transports.

In subsequent years, the Delta King provided housing for Aluminum Company of Canada workers on the northern coast of British Columbia until 1959, when it was purchased by a Stockton entrepreneur who became enmeshed in legal battles over its ownership. Nevertheless, that year the ship starred as a Mississippi riverboat in the 1959 MGM film The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

After some not-so-thrilling adventures that damaged the vessel, the Delta King was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978—though by that time, the engines and paddle wheel had been scrapped, and much of the once-elegant interior stripped.

Several changes of ownership later, the Delta King was finally restored in 1985 and opened in 1989 as a historic floating palace at the Sacramento waterfront where thousands dine, meet friends for drinks in its elegant lounges, enjoy theatrical presentations, or exchange wedding vows in style.

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