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Prescott's Steamboat Inn demolished

On Monday, Dec. 14, a landmark restaurant familiar with diners from Hastings for decades was in the process of being demolished: the Steamboat Inn in Prescott, Wisconsin.

The popular riverfront restaurant at the Highway 10 bridge, which later became Cabana Jo’s bar, was still partially standing Tuesday morning, but Robert Campbell of Riverboat Properties said demolition should be completed this week, “barring any unforeseen issues.”

“Riverboat Properties LLC, along with the City of Prescott, had determined it was best to proceed with clearing of the somewhat blighted buildings and preparing the site for future construction even before the final design and construction timeline had been established,” Campbell said.

Campbell is referring to the proposed mixed-use development project called Vista Croix.

The project proposes building a four-story mixed-use 83,000 square foot project, which would house a 6,000-7,500 square foot restaurant on the main level, a banquet facility, and commercial/retail space on the street level. Other amenities proposed include an underground heated parking garage, a social common area, workout facilities, a rooftop green space for outdoor receptions and gatherings, and an outdoor pool/patio area.

“No final layout has been determined at this time,” Campbell said. “We believe it's significantly more important to proceed carefully rather than quickly, to make certain of the best use of that location, both for the good citizens of Prescott and the reasonable interests of the ownership group.”

At its Oct. 26 meeting, the Prescott City Council approved a developer agreement with Riverboat Properties LLC, which granted it $25,000 as a TIF incentive to demolish the former Steamboat Inn and the former Florence Fiedler house next door at 311 Lake St. by Dec. 31.

If there is no development started within three years the grant becomes a loan to be paid off over five years.

A piece of history, gone

Michael Rowan, the Steamboat’s operational manager from 1975 to 1996, said the destination restaurant was built in 1962 around the St. Croix Theater, which closed in the 1950s.

He said the floors sloped down at the entrance to the restaurant because they followed the shape of the theatre: the same reason why the floors sloped upward to the restrooms.

An interesting fact: the Steamboat was built at such an angle because the International Order of Oddfellows Hall, which was demolished in 1956, sat where the Steamboat’s parking lot was located. The group had a stipulation after the demolition of the hall that no liquor could ever be served on its former location; therefore, the restaurant could not be built on that portion of the parcel.

“At least that’s what Sy Brand told me,” Rowan said. “Sy was part of the investor’s group. And that’s another thing. How can any developers serve alcohol on that parking lot?”

Pat Connelly, one of the original owners with a group of investors that included Russ Swanson, was operational manager until Rowan took the position in 1975. Rowan started as a bartender in 1970 and later became part-owner.

“We were a full service, destination, special occasion restaurant,” Rowan said. “It’s really a loss for the city. We always wanted to remodel and expand, but the City Council would never allow us to do that. We took a lot of pride in the beauty of that place. I wonder what they think now?”

Jean Ann Kemmerer worked at the Steamboat for 27 years: first as a waitress, then hostess, then wedding coordinator.

“It’s just a shame to see it go down,” Kemmerer said. “All four of my kids worked there. Both of my daughters’ weddings were there.”

She recalled how the Steamboat was “the” destination for proms, banquets and the community’s special occasions. Rowan said the restaurant catered 20-30 weddings a season. Kemmerer said it was not uncommon for big name Twin Cities athletes, well know personalities like Sid Hartman, or 3M international executives to frequent the establishment.

“I remember back in the days when we were serving food at midnight,” Kemmerer said.

“In its hey day, you couldn’t drink in Minnesota on Sundays, so people would come have drinks and watch the boats on the water,” Rowan said.

The Steamboat operated two charter boats. One held 100 passengers, the other 49. It was a common stop for bus tours as well, though he said the city made it difficult to continue to operate those.

“We were the introduction to the gateway of Wisconsin,” Rowan said. “We also provided entry level jobs for Prescott kids. We had wonderful people working for us.”

The Steamboat Inn closed in August of 2006, run at the time by Bruce Swanson.

Fiedler house

The Florence Fiedler house at 311 Lake St. will also be torn down. It was built in 1896 by Lou Mercord using timbers from the old Redmon grain warehouse river dock adjoining the location, according to “A History of Prescott, Wisconsin” by Dorothy Eaton Ahlgren and Mary Cotter Beeler.

The Queen Anne-style house with its recognizable tower was home to steamboat Capt. Henry C. Doughty, who later sold it to Herman G. Fiedler, president of the Prescott Bridge Company, in 1909.