Then & Now: Cruisin' the Waters

For well over a century, you've been able to pay to enjoy a cruise around Buckeye Lake!


8/12/20233 min read

My favorite memory of being on Buckeye Lake in a boat was one July Fourth years ago, when the Department of Watercraft agreed to let me ride along to grab some photos of the fireworks display for the front page of The Beacon. To say it was memorable is an understatement. What I thought was just quick access to a good vantage point turned into patrolling and law enforcement until the wee hours of morning. And the things I saw could be their own blog.

Main lesson learned after dark on the lake: keep those running lights on, or an officer will shine a giant spotlight into your boat (eeek)!

I didn’t have a boat of my own, of course, but I was never hurting for opportunities to get out on the water.

The main character in my novel Pressed Together (available summer 2024) gets around Buckeye Lake in 1946 in a shiny wooden Chris-Craft, of course, because she’s grown up at a marina.

Anyway, visitors to Buckeye Lake amusement park a century ago and even visitors to the lake now have been able to pay for a boat ride around the banana-shaped body of water. Even before the amusement park, in the earliest part of the 20th century, they could catch a ride on the Del Fisher line to Fisher Beach, where you can still find the 6th generation of the family running a marina.

For the first half of the 1900s, sternwheelers offered boat cruises. Pictured here is the first Queen of the Lake and the second, triple-decker version, both built on Buckeye Lake by Pete Taylor.

On a weekend during the Big Band era, when Harry James was playing in one ballroom and Tommy Dorsey the other, you could barely walk the midway, according to Buckeye Lake Museum Director J-me Braig. The amusement park would pack between 20,000 and 50,000 visitors in, and many of those would stand in line to get to take a ride on the water.

Speed boat rides were a rare treat in those times. The Star Boat lines and others were hugely popular fast rides across the water in the 1940s and 50s. Like the sternwheelers, they left from the amusement park. The map here shows an overhead view of the amusement park, with the Dips roller coaster marked at the far left and the docks for boat rides visible on the right.

The next sternwheeler was often called the Mark Twain, and it cost about a dollar for an hour-long ride during the time when many museum visitors might actually remember cruising on it, around the 1960s.

Leaving from the park like the boats before it, it would cruise along the north shore, circle the west bank shore, come back along the south shore, and turn back near Cranberry Bog (more on the bog later, of course).

Today, though you won’t be riding a coaster first, it’s still possible to pay to enjoy a cruise around Buckeye Lake, thanks to the Historical Society. Queen of the Lake III offers tours and dinner tours during the warm months, following the same basic route as the Mark Twain would have. For information on the schedule and availability, visit the society’s website at (button below)


Braig says she was a senior in high school when the Mark Twain took its last cruise on Aug. 20, 1973. Having grown up on the north shore, she had never paid to ride the sternwheeler until its final August journey, but she’d watched it cruise past her home every day. Braig, her brother, and her friend Charlotte hopped on that last voyage.

“When we got in front of our house, we all just jumped right off over the rail,” Braig recalls, laughing. “We swam to our dock, and the boat never stopped. It just kept going. Our mom was so mad.”

Do you have a memory of a “back then” boat cruise on the lake? Or a recent story about your Queen of the Lake III voyage? Please share it because we all love stories!

Note: Any photos you see in this blog are courtesy of the Buckeye Lake Historical Museum and can be viewed there on display!