Grand Excursion draws thousands in 2004
Thousands of tourists descend on Red Wing in any given summer.
In 2004, that number skyrocketed on July 2, the day the Grand Excursion Flotilla came to town.
Grand Excursion 2004 was a celebration and retracing of an 1854 excursion that commemorated America's first railroad connection to the Mississippi River. At that time, more than 1,200 people journeyed by rail and steamboat from the Quad Cities to the Twin Cities, stopping in several communities along the way.
In Red Wing, thousands of local residents and visitors packed the riverfront from Colvill Park at the southern edge to Bay Point Park's Upper Harbor and beyond. More joined the flotilla or went on short steamboat excursion cruises out of the various communities.
Not only did the event give those who have never been here a chance to discover the community, it also brought residents together to show off what their town had to offer.
"We received national and international exposure of the Upper Mississippi River Valley as a destination and we should reap the benefits for years to come," said Arne Skyberg, director of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce during the excursion.
Other area communities that participated included Prairie Island Indian Community, Kellogg, Wabasha, Reads Landing, Camp Lacupolis, Lake City and Frontenac on the Minnesota side of the river; Pepin, Stockholm, Maiden Rock, Bay City, Diamond Bluff and Prescott in Wisconsin.
The largest steamboat flotilla in a century included the historic Delta Queen and the elegant Mississippi Queen, the Celebration Belle, the Julia Belle Swain, the Spirit of Peoria, the Harriet Bishop and the Anson Northrup.
As each boat approached Red Wing, Civil War re-enactors at Colvill Park welcomed it with the boom of a cannon. The history buffs simulated a battle as well.
In Levee Park the Delta Queen was one major attraction, along with a pair of steam locomotives - Canadian Pacific Railway's locomotive 2816, known as the Empress, and the Grand Excursion train, also known as Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261 - which stopped near the Depot.