The world's biggest steamboat will dock in Winona Saturday

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Steamboat power built Winona, so in a way the town will be getting back to its roots on Saturday when the ship billed as the biggest steamboat ever pulls up to the levee.

Rather than cargo, the American Queen carries tourists on a river cruise.

The company offers six different Upper Mississippi River cruises but the Winona Daily News says the American Queen has not docked at Winona since August of last year.

It will be at Levee Park from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, the Daily News says, giving locals a chance to gawk at the boat while its passengers get an eyeful of Winona.

Riverboat cruises on the rise

Earlier this month the company that operates the American Queen announced plans to add a third steamboat to its fleet, which will be its second on the Mississippi (the American Empress operates in the Pacific Northwest).

"We're turning people away, so we have to get more capacity," President and CEO Ted Sykes told the website

Skift says river cruises have been more common in Europe but the U.S. market is beginning to grow.

And we can expect to see more of them in Minnesota. Last year Viking River Cruises said it plans to expand its New Orleans-based fleet and start traveling as far north as St. Paul.

Winona's steamboat legacy

Winona was founded by a steamboat captain named Orrin Smith who hopped off his boat with a carpenter and started building a town in 1851, the Winona County Historical Society says.

As the Daily News recounts, a restored steamboat based in Winona sailed the Mississippi from 1938 until it was pulled ashore and turned into a museum in 1956. By then it was the only wooden-hulled steamboat on the river and its rotting wood finally led to the demise of the Julius Wilkie 10 years ago.

Winona's annual summer festival is Steamboat Days and it is home to the Minnesota Maritime Art Museum.

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