BUMMING AROUND BURLINGTON

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I liked the historic feel of Burlington, which was quite different from where I grew up in Southern California.  Several of the downtown Burlington buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was great to see the care taken to preserve these old buildings.

Take the Capitol Theater, for example.  Dating back to 1937, the 700-seat theater had been closed since 1977; however, a foundation of passionate citizens was formed to raise the money needed to restore the theater back to its 1937 splendor– with some modern additions.  Such painstaking care was taken in the restoration that the new seats and carpet were reproduced to look like the originals, and a boatload of money was spent to restore the marquee to exactly as it looked in its heyday.

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We took a guided tour, one of the included attractions for the day.  I especially liked the art deco-style lighting throughout the theater, and the old projector was a classic!

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The hop on-hop off bus also made stops at the top of Heritage Hill, a beautiful neighborhood of lovely old homes and Snake Alley.

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Constructed in 1894, Snake Alley was once known as the crookedest alley in the world.  It was built to create a short cut from the top of the hill to the business district below.  Needing to accommodate horses, the mode of transportation at the time, the bricks were tilted higher on the upper edges, making it easier for the horse’s hooves to catch on the raised edge making the ascent easier and the descent a lot safer.

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We didn’t have access to a horse, so we hoofed the 275 feet of Snake Alley carefully on foot to the street below.

While bumming around Burlington, we had a quick look at St. Paul’s Catholic Church:

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In all, it was a pleasant little historic city of 25,000-26,000 people, and we enjoyed having a look around.

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It was another beautiful sail-away highlighted by an entertaining calliope concert!

 

 

 

 

 

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A typical river barge on the Mississippi River

 

Coming up next:  HANGIN’ IN HANNIBAL

QUAD CITIES

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The “Quad Cities” region, at the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi rivers, was next up on the journey aboard the American Queen Steamboat paddle wheeler.  Located in northwest Illinois and southeast Iowa, the focus of the hop on-hop off bus route encompassed Davenport and Bettendorf, the two Iowa Quad Cities  We hopped aboard for a look around.

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The Isabel Bloom sculpture studio, in Bettendorf, was our first stop where we saw a demonstration of how they make their sculptures.

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In Davenport we chose to spend some of our time at the River Music Experience, which included a very cool performance by two local musicians, and a stroll through the Bix Beiderbecke Museum.  Davenport was home to the great jazz cornetist in his younger days, so the private not-for-profit museum was established for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting material related to his life and career.

We also enjoyed the exhibits at the Figge Art Museum, where the highlight for us was seeing this Tiffany stained glass window:

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Downtown Davenport

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A bank building in Davenport

Back on board, the sail-away was eventful, between the bridges we sailed under, the calliope concert (always fun!), and the locks we went through.  It’s a tradition for the steamboat crew and passengers to throw beads to spectators at the locks, so one of the officers handed out strands of beads to toss to these onlookers, who made a sport of catching them!

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Next up:  BUMMING AROUND BURLINGTON

 

GALAVANTING OFF TO GALENA

It’s the busiest time of year for Cooked Glass Creations, so the long delay since my last post was due to Bruce and I galavanting off to craft shows here, there, and everywhere!

A short break from the action (while Bruce builds his stock back up) allows me to squeeze in another post:

The American Queen paddled us down the Missississippi River from La Crosse to Dubuque, Iowa, our next port on the journey.  Having visited the area during a previous trip with my best friend, Laura, her step-brother, and his wife; I had a plan:  Rent a car and visit Galena, where the four of us had thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The shore excursion office offered a premium excursion to Galena; however, after some quick research and calculations, I figured it was a LOT less expensive (and more fun!) to rent a car for a few hours from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and go on our own.

We asked our table mates if they wanted to join us, so after a quick look at Dubuque aboard the hop-on-hop-off bus (included with the cruise), a friendly Enterprise rep. picked the four of us up and took us back to the office to sign the paperwork.  (The rep. who brought us back was also friendly and a fun guy to chat with during the drive back to the boat.  I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Enterprise folks, so I concur with Consumer Reports and recommend them for your car rental needs!)

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This shot was snapped through the bus window in Dubuque.

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Another shot through the bus window of an interesting mural.

Galena, Illinois, located across the Mississippi from Dubuque, was a pleasant 25-minute drive, and well worth the visit.  Bruce, Jacque, and Rick enjoyed strolling through the historic district as much as I thought they would, and it was nice to visit the quaint town (population less than 3,500), once again.

Unfortunately, it was a gloomy day, so my photos aren’t nearly as nice as the ones I posted in my first blog about Galena.

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Now, somebody up there has an interesting sense of humor!  I wonder how many tourists look up and wonder about THAT!

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We enjoyed a tasty “flight” of root beer here:

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Our boat, back in Dubuque

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Jacque and Rick seemed to enjoy the calliope concert during the sail-away as much as we did!

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Goodbye, Dubuque!

Next stop on the cruise:  QUAD CITIES

 

 

LOVELY LA CROSSE

On August 16, 2017, the American Queen arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin’s largest city on its western border.  Historically known for its lumber and brewery industries, La Crosse has become a regional technology and medical hub, thanks to the numerous educational institutions and health systems in the city.  Not only is La Crosse home to a University of Wisconsin campus, Viterbo University and Western Technical College are also located in this city of under 53,000 people!  No wonder why La Crosse has received high rankings for education.  Gundersen and Mayo Clinic health systems are also located in La Crosse, so the city also ranks high for health, well-being, and quality of life.  That’s a lot of greatness for such a relatively small city!

We chose to make the Dahl Auto Museum the first hop-off visit of the day on the bus route.  Ranked 4-1/2 of 5 on Trip Advisor, we were not alone in our assessment that this was a worthwhile attraction in La Crosse!

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My, how times have changed since I was born!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of other stops in the city, we enjoyed a walk along the Mississippi River from the riverboat to the lovely Riverside International Friendship Gardens.  La Crosse has sister cities in China, Germany, France, Russia, Norway and Ireland; and, this collection of themed gardens celebrates those relationships.  I like their motto: “Riverside International Friendship Gardens will be a place of beauty reflecting our appreciation for the diverse cultures that share the earth.”

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Onward ho to Dubuque, Iowa!  Bon Voyage!

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One of my favorite times of the was during the short calliope concert during each sail away.

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This was one of the many locks we encountered along the Mississippi.

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Another tasty seafood dinner…

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… and delicious dessert!

Coming up next:  GALAVANTING OFF TO GALENA

 

A RELAXING DAY IN RED WING

One of the enjoyable aspects of cruising aboard a riverboat is the easy access and close proximity of each town on the itinerary.  In most of the ports we visited, it was a short walk to town from the boat.  Many of the attractions were close by, and for the highlights not within walking distance, the (complimentary) hop-on-hop-off buses got us to where we needed to go quickly and efficiently.

The evening before each port, we stopped by the kiosk located at the purser’s desk and selected the time we wanted to hop on the bus for the narrated circuit of town.  Forty tickets were available for each time slot (on the hour, quarter hour, and half hour).  Select the desired time and quantity of tickets, and your tickets would immediately print out for the taking.

The following morning, we would board the bus at our designated time, and off we would go.  If we arrived early, and there were still available seats on an earlier bus, we could take that bus instead.  It was an efficient system, because it avoided unwanted line-ups and waiting.

Once in town, tickets weren’t needed.  If there were seats available on the bus when it stopped at one of the several available locations on the circuit, you could hop on for a ride.  There was never a problem catching a ride; the buses were never full.

Most of the time, we would ride the circuit once to listen to the narration and learn about the town.  Once we had gone round-trip, we would plan out our day from there.

Red Wing was one of those towns located adjacent to the river, so it was a very short walk into town.  We did hop on the bus, though, because the Pottery Museum of Red Wing was one of the attractions located outside of the historic town center.

According to their website, The Pottery Museum of Red Wing is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich and colorful story of Red Wing’s clay industry. More than 6,000 vintage pieces of artisan-crafted stoneware, art pottery, dinnerware and folk art bring the story of historic Red Wing to life in dozens of dynamic exhibits covering 13,000 square feet.”

 The museum had a group of excellent docents, and we were fascinated by the history of the pottery they had on display.

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Red Wing, Minnesota, a small town of less than 17,000, is also known for their handcrafted work boots of the same name, a company that has been in existence since 1905.  These giant painted boot sculptures around town were a humorous reminder of the company that made the town’s name recognizable to us two native Californians:

The historic downtown was an attractive little area to walk around, especially this quaint little park located across from the St. James Hotel:

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We also made sure to stop by Red Wing Confectionery to pick up a couple of treats and compliment them on the cute steamboat chocolates that were waiting on our bed for us when we returned to our cabin the previous evening:

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As we sailed away from Red Wing during the late afternoon, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of some bald eagles.  This one was photographed from quite a distance using telephoto, and then cropping the photo.  Due to the fact we were moving when the picture was taken, it isn’t sharp.  Still, l thought it was worth including:

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The sail away was the beginning of our 2,300-mile, 21-day journey down the Mississippi, and we were excited to be in on the adventure!

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Meanwhile, on board, I had a humorous encounter with another passenger as I stepped into the hallway from my cabin.  A man stopped one of the cabin attendants in the hallway, and in a jovial, teasing manner, asked her why all the passengers on this deck had cabins with pretty names on the doors, while he was stuck on a floor with cabins named after presidents.  He lamented, “I’m in the ‘Polk’ cabin, and ‘Filmore’ is next door—two of the worst presidents in history!”

I was listening in on him teasing this poor gal, so I took a flyer and snapped back, “At least you aren’t in a cabin named after Trump!”  Now, that could have gone either way.  At that very moment, I either made an enemy, or made a friend.

Fortunately (for me, because he was a big guy with a gruff-looking expression), that brought a smile to his face!  After a bit of commiseration about the current state of national affairs, we introduced ourselves and exchanged typical passenger-to-passenger questions, such as, “Where are you from?”  The thing is, every time I asked Rick a question, and he replied, I felt as if our pasts had mirrored each other—and, his wife’s, too!

As it turns out, Rick and Jacque currently live about four miles from where Bruce and I had lived during our last fifteen years in San Diego County.  Then, I learned they were both from my native home town of Long Beach (and neighboring, Lakewood), California!  Rick graduated from a rival high school, while Jacque was a Lakewood Lancer, like me!  Go Lancers!!  Jacque and I also attended Long Beach City College; however, the two of them graduated from Long Beach State University, while Bruce and I were San Diego State University graduates.  Jacque worked at San Diego State University, though, and they are basketball and football season ticket holders.  Go Aztecs!!

Since we had a twenty-year age difference, we didn’t know each other back then; however, it still felt like a small world.

When I met Jacque at the show that evening, she greeted me with a big hug and, “Go Lancers!”  She couldn’t wait to text her group of friends who were also Lancers and have stayed friends over all these years.

As it turned out, the four of us were able to arrange a table together in the dining room, and we were table mates for the length of the cruise.  Lucky for us, we really hit it off, and they were the best table mates we have ever had!

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Coming up next:  LOVELY LA CROSSE

http://www.potterymuseumredwing.org/

 

THE “M’S” HAVE IT! MINNEHAHA (HA-HA!) FALLS, MINNEAPOLIS, AND MALL OF AMERICA

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According to the results of my Google search, Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman documented in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”. She is the lover of the titular protagonist Hiawatha and comes to a tragic end. The name, often said to mean “laughing water”, literally translates to “waterfall” or “rapid water” in Dakota.

The name does make you chuckle, don’t ya think?

Minnehaha Regional Park, where the 53-foot falls are the star attraction, is one of the most popular sites in Minneapolis and was highest on our list to visit.  Walking/hiking and travel photography are our “thing”, and there were plenty of opportunities for both.  Besides, the park is also home of Sea Salt Eatery, a popular casual seafood restaurant reputed (on Trip Advisor) to have tasty fish tacos.  The great outdoors and delicious food; what a perfect combo!

The Metro Transit train stop was just across the street from the park, and the falls were located a short walk through lovely gardens, once we entered the park.

We arrived before the restaurant opened, so enjoying the gardens and watching the falls was a great way to pass the time before the restaurant line started forming.  (The lines get long, so we wanted to get ahead of the rush.)

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The fish tacos?  As tasty as the reviews stated, and dining alfresco was a lovely way to enjoy our brunch along with the hypnotic sound of the rushing water over the falls.

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Fueled up, we were ready to rumble, and hike along Minnehaha Creek (which flows over the Minnehaha Falls) to see where it met the Mississippi River.  The scenery along the creek was beautiful, and it was interesting to see the confluence—the perfect fishing spot for this fly fisherman:

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Taking a different path back and going the (unintended) long way back to the station gave us the opportunity to see more of this 167-acre park.

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The remainder of the afternoon was spent walking the city and checking out two sports stadiums—homes of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins—both located in downtown Minneapolis.  The glass building of the football stadium made for some fun photography!

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“The times they are a changing.” This is Bob Dylan, then and now.

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The following day was a cold and rainy one, so we planned everything just right for our Minneapolis visit!  The first day was spent all outdoors, and our second one indoors.  We took the train out to the University of Minnesota to see my friends compete at U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals.  The weather at Minnehaha Falls couldn’t have been better, so we didn’t mind having a rainy day where we had planned on spending it indoors, anyway.

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Georgia Masters Teammates: Malena, Marianne, and Ed

It was great seeing a few of my teammates, but I was most excited to see our friends from Oregon, Allen and Carol.  “King Frog” (as I have called him since he broke the 200 Meter Breaststroke World Record in his age group) has been my breaststroke mentor on the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums, since I joined USMS in 2010.  We (and our spouses) became friends and look forward to seeing each other at national competitions.  (We even met up at the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships in Montreal, in 2014!  King Frog broke a World Record then, too.)

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“King Frog (Allen) & Carol

After lunch with King Frog and Carol, we took the train out to Mall of America.  Shopping wasn’t the draw (we don’t particularly enjoy it); however, the spectacle of it all was what we were curious to see.

The mall completely surrounds an amusement park, and I managed to find plenty of photo ops. at the rides and throughout the mall.  The massive Lego sculptures were especially must-photograph features, as was the irresistible Crayola Crayon store where the colors on display were so cheerful.

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Coming up next:  HITTIN’ THE ROAD TO WISCONSIN

 

A River Runs Through It

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What is the one state where the Mississippi River runs through it, rather than by it? Louisiana. And, yesterday, our journey took us to St. Francisville, Louisiana, a tiny town with an interesting history.

St. Francisville bounced between countries during its two centuries of history before becoming part of the United States. Founded in 1809 by the English, it was also claimed at one time by France and Spain. In 1810, the town served as the capital of the Republic of West Florida, an independent republic set up by settlers who resented Spanish rule. The experiment lasted less than three months before St. Francisville officially became part of the United States once and for all.

In its heyday, St. Francisville was a center of commerce for the surrounding plantations, making it a key port for steamboats. At one time, it was the busiest river port between New Orleans and Memphis.

After the Civil War the town prospered, even though many people left to escape the economically devastated region. But, a large number of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution in Germany settled in the area and became merchants.

Today, it is a quiet town with beautifully maintained Victorian homes. The entire downtown area is a National Register Historic District.

One interesting fact about this town of 1,700 mostly retired residents is that it has a K-12th grade school that ranks as one of the best in the country, even though Louisiana as a state ranks 49th overall for its education system.

St. Francisville also has four banks and a large number of attorney offices in town, due to Angola State Prison being located 20 miles away. Since St. Francisville is such a desirable place to live and has an excellent school, the attorneys would rather live and set up their offices in town, rather than near the prison. As a result, homes in the downtown area are more than double the cost of similar homes in the outskirts of town.

One of the highlight of our visit to St. Francisville was enjoying the beauty of this quaint little town; especially the Victorian homes and stained glass windows of the tiny Methodist church.

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The other highlight was strolling through the gorgeous grounds of the Grace Episcopal Church cemetery.

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Natchez, Mississippi

Continuing on down the Mississippi, we arrived in Natchez, a small city of less than 20,000 people that has quite an interesting history. I was fascinated to learn that Natchez has flown under several different flags: French, English, Spanish, American, Confederate, and again under the American flag.

During the 1800’s, Natchez was a frequent stop for steamboats and a major port for the loading of cotton bound for New Orleans, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The city recovered from a tornado in 1840 which killed 269 people and had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States prior to the Civil War. Although occupied by General Grant’s army in 1863, Natchez survived the Civil War intact and today has some of the most extensive examples of antebellum homes in the country. One of those antebellum homes is on a plantation, now owned by American Steamboat Company Chef de Cuisine Regina Charboneau. The acclaimed Southern chef now operates Twin Oaks as a bed and breakfast.

Our day was spent hopping on and off the bus and touring three different antebellum mansions, including Stanton Hall, a Greek Revival structure built in 1857.

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We also enjoyed strolling along the streets of Natchez to enjoy the other homes of the town.

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Overall, our impression of Natchez was very positive. It would be a wonderful place to return to for a stay in a bed and breakfast and to enjoy The Great Mississippi Balloon Race that takes place in late October.

From Arkansas to Mississippi

Our next stop along the Lower Mississippi River was Vicksburg, Mississippi, a charming town dating back to 1719. The French were the first inhabitants and by 1719 and built Fort Saint-Peirre on the bluffs above the Yazoo River to protect their fur trading post from Native Americans.

Several years later, the Chotaw Nation laid claim to the area. The Spanish were next, and by 1790, a small military outpost had been founded. Americans took over the small fort eight years later and the area quickly grew quickly, incorporating in 1825 as Vicksburg in honor of Newitt Vick, a Methodist minister.

During the Civil War, on July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was the site of a 47 day siege that ultimately ended in Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendering to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. While July 4 was known as Independence Day across America, the citizens of Vicksburg viewed that date as a day of defeat and did not celebrate the 4th of July again until 1945.

On a lighter note, Vicksburg was also the location where local candy store owner Joseph Biedenharn made history on March 12, 1894 when he bottled the first batch of Coca-Cola.

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Today, Vicksburg is a charming city with many beautiful homes and a pleasant historic downtown with attractive boutiques. My favorite feature of the main downtown shopping street was the jazz playing over speakers placed in the sidewalk landscaping. Nice touch!

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As we did in Helena, we enjoyed Vicksburg by riding one of American Queen Steamboat Company’s four hop on/ hop off buses. For the first four hours of each port day, the buses are each staffed with a local expert who narrates the circuit, in between the designated stops.

Mom and I have chosen to ride the full circuit once to hear the entire narration and plan out the stops for the second trip through. In Vicksburg, one of the scheduled trips worth hopping off for was Church of the Holy Trinity, built in 1869. In this church there were several beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows, made in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s that were later installed.

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Another thing we really enjoyed about Vicksburg was the waterfront area where the American Queen was moored. Along the flood wall, there were beautifully painted murals depicting the history of Vicksburg; each one with a plaque explaining the mural. Walking along the sidewalk to see the murals was a wonderful way to learn about the history of Vicksburg.

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Steaming South on the Lower Mississippi

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Our first port on this 640 mile journey along the Lower Mississippi was Helena, Arkansas, a small town that exists only because of the river itself. In the 1800’s, the river was the nation’s superhighway, long before railroads and trucks, and carried most of the nation’s goods and people through the heartland.

Although the town was prosperous then, the Civil War put an end to Helena’s prosperity when the Union Army occupied Helena.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, a vibrant blues community developed in the city. The area has produced blues greats Robert Lee McCollum, Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Robert Lockwood Jr.

Helena is also home to King Biscuit Time, one of America’s longest running daily radio programs which first aired in 1941.

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Today, Helena shows evidence of being hard hit by the recession. The only bright ray of sunshine for this town, economically, is the population explosion from 12,000 to 85,000 during its annual King Biscuit Blues Festival.

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I always wondered how San Diego’s King Biscuit Blues Band got its name. And, when I arrived in Helena, the origins of the bands’ name finally dawned on me. A King Biscuit Blues Festival poster hung in a storefront window and the connection was made.