HOUMA, La. -- The 88-year old Paddlewheel Steamboat Delta Queen looks regal as she sits tied to the grassy bank of a Houma canal, ready to start a new chapter under new owner Cornel Martin.
"It's exciting," said Martin. "It's exciting because we are saving a piece of American history."
The Delta Queen was launched in 1927, and for decades New Orleans was the home port for cruises on the rivers through America's heartland.
Captain Michael Williams has seen superstars relax on the deck, enjoy the stately lounges and sleep peacefully to the gentle swell of the river.
"We've had three presidents over the years on board the Delta Queen, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman," said Williams. "Many celebrities, Princess Margaret of England."
But the past five years were spent tied to a dock as a hotel after the Queen lost the exemption from the ban on wooden vessels carrying passengers. Martin, the Thibodaux businessman and former Queen cruises vice president, has asked Congress to allow The Queen to cruise again, and he is starting a $5 million top-to-bottom overhaul.
Until they get approval from Congress to sail on the rivers again, they can't get loans for the work that needs to be done on the boat. So they're coming up with ideas to raise funds. The old paddle wheel that is being replaced, for example, will be cut up and sold as a souvenir.
"The most important part now is protecting and preserving the Delta Queen," Martin said. "So everything we're doing now is from donations from friends and family and supporters of the Delta Queen."
Martin hopes the Queen will sail next year, and cities are already competing to be her home port.
For more on the campaign to restore the Delta Queen, call toll free 1-844-668-4337, or visit them on Facebook at Delta Queen Steamboat Company. They will soon begin an Indiegogo fund raising campaign.