The Dixie Queen, 1856.

Everyone knew it was a momentous occasion, but no one could guess that this one event would forever change the landscape of their small Sassagoula settlement.

It was the summer of ’55 — a sunny Thursday in July — when word spread like crabgrass through Magnolia Bend, Alligator Bayou, Ol’ Man Island and the surrounding backwoods. Today was the day the Dixie Queen would arrive, and no one — not a trapper nor a millhand — was about to miss the celebration. Unfortunately, as the crowd swelled along the banks of the river, not a single one of them considered the fact that the river itself had not swelled in quite some time. In fact, many weeks without rainfall had dropped the mighty river’s level to an all-time low, and when the Sassagoula Steamboat Company’s pride and joy approached the landing, the magnificent vessel landed a lot more abruptly than her designers had ever intended.

She was aground on the landing, and destined to remain in that state for days on end. Early in August, at great expense to Buford’s young company, a tug steamed in from Port Orleans to drag the Queen off the landing to a more appropriate and functional berth at river’s edge. Already, though, the story of the steamboat’s dramatic debut had made its way well past the confines of the community. As the story grew, so did the area’s notoriety and, in a sense by popular demand, Magnolia Bend, Alligator Bayou and Ol’ Man Island collectively became known as Dixie Landings.

As for the Dixie Queen, she served honorably and well, traveling up and down the Sassagoula (her pilot always keenly alert to lower than usual water levels, of course!) for ten glorious years. The career of the Dixie Queen would no doubt have continued much longer, but she had, it seems, one more date with fate. In one of the worst storms ever recorded along the Sassagoula, the incomparable Queen was struck by lightning. In a spectacular blast of sparks and smoke, half the beautiful boat was ashes in minutes.

Her days of service were not entirely over even then, though. The remaining half-Queen was pulled from the water and later purchased by one Monsieur Henri Le Marin who recycled her timbers to build a home for his relocated company, the now-famous Boatwright Shop.

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