The Gateway Clipper Fleet
The Gateway Clipper Fleet, moored along the southern banks of the Monongahela River, at Station Square, has become one of Pittsburgh's landmark attractions. Established in 1958, the Gateway Clipper Fleet is now the number one non-sports attraction in the City of Pittsburgh. It consists of five ships with a total capacity of 2500 passengers. The fleet sails year-round, providing shuttle services during major city events and offering a variety of river cruises.
The origins of the Gateway Clipper Fleet can be traced to the early 1950s, when the City of Pittsburgh was in the midst of the modernization effort known as Renaissance I. After World War II, Pittsburgh was nationally known as the "Smokey City." Soot and industial waste from the factories and mills had polluted both the air and the rivers.
Renaissance I saw dramatic changes in the city's image. Gleaming new skyscrapers rose above the Golden Triangle. Modern bridges linked new highways in and out of the city. Environmental controls had cleared the skies of the acrid haze and brought life back into the rivers. Reforestation efforts had restored the Mount Washington hillside back to it's original lush, tree-covered look.
In 1955, John Connelly saw the vast potential of the waterways. “These rivers are the lifeblood of the city,” he said. His vision was to have an excursion boat to ferry passengers on sight-seeing trips to show off the revitalized city and the three rivers.
Connelly sent his nephew, Captain Jack Goessling, to search for the perfect boat. He found a fishing boat names the "Bridget Ann" in Erie, Pennsylvania. Getting the boat from Erie to Pittsburgh was quite a task. The trip from Erie took four weeks, sailing day and night.
The journey began in April 1958 and covered over 2,200 miles. The route included the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron, the Straits of Mackinak, the Illinois River, the Mississippi River, and finally the Ohio River. The boat arrived in Pittsburgh on May 16, 1958 and was christened the "Gateway Clipper."
On May 17, 1958 the 100-passenger “Gateway Clipper” sailed from the Monongahela Wharf on it's first chartered pleasure cruise. It was a success from start. It sailed for four months that maiden season, touring the three rivers with over 25,000 passengers. The Clipper became known as the city’s official sightseeing boat.
In 1959, two more 100-passenger boats were added, the “Gateway Clipper II” and the “Good Ship Lollipop”. As it's popularity increased, so did the size and makeup of the fleet. The fleet had added the 600-passenger "Party Liner," in 1966. The ship was actually a converted barge pushed by a tugboat called "Gateway Liner." Other smaller boats came and went over the years. At times there were up to ten Clipper boats moored along the Monongahela Wharf.
The "Liberty Belle" arrived in Pittsburgh in 1975, named in honor of the nation's Bicentennial. In 1979 another ship was added, briefly called "City of Champions" in honor of the Pirates and Steelers, then christened as the new "Good Ship Lollipop" in 1982.
For twenty-four years, from 1958 to 1981, the Gateway Clipper Fleet was moored and launched from the northern bank of the Monongahela River along the Mon Wharf. In 1982, the fleet headquarters were moved to the southern bank, at historic Station Square. Since then, the fleet has continued to evolve and improve on the services offered to it's patrons.
The largest boat ever to sail with the fleet, a 277 foot, 1000-passenger behemoth called "Majestic," was added in 1987. The fleet then consisted of the flagship “Majestic,” were the 600-passenger “Empress” (formerly the Party Liner, and now pushed by the tug "Empress II"), the 400-passenger “Duchess” (formerly the Liberty Belle) and 150-passenger “Countess” (formerly the Good Ship Lollipop).
The final additions to the present-day Clipper Fleet were the 400-passenger "Princess" in 1999, and the "Three Rivers Queen," which was christened in May of 2013. All of the riverboats in the fleet are reminiscent of the quaint old riverboats that sailed the rivers in days gone by. Throughout the years more than twenty boats have been members of Pittsburgh's ever-evolving fleet, which is believed to be the largest inland riverboat fleet in the United States.
The Gateway Clipper Fleet, which celebrated it's 60th anniversary in 2018, has always been an important part of the “Pittsburgh Experience.” It is an iconic symbol of Pittsburgh’s river renaissance. Having grown from a one boat, 100-passenger operation to the five boat, 2,500-passenger fleet in operation today, the Gateway Clipper riverboats have combined to transport over 30 million passengers. A Gateway Clipper cruise is an enjoyable, relaxing and informative way to explore the history of the City of Pittsburgh and the three rivers.
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