The story begins on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1969. Captain William D. Bowell Sr., founder of the Padelford Riverboat Company, launched his first sternwheeler, the Jonathan Padelford, into the waters outlining St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a boat that would have made Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stand in awe, with its all-steel frame and towering stacks, and it drew lots of attention as passengers came from all over to hop on board for leisurely jaunts up and down the Mississippi.
Although the vessel was the first for the new riverboat touring company, it would not be the last, as Padelford Riverboats would soon add two more vessels to its fleet.
Today, the company is owned and managed by Gus Gaspardo and his wife, Tammy, who were selected by the Bowell family to take over the company in 2016 after Gus’ more than 34 years of working his way up from senior deckhand to captain to president. The Gaspardos are joined by a team of experienced river professionals with many years of service in the company, along with their two children, James and Samantha.
“I was lucky enough to grow up on the river,” said Samantha Gaspardo, event manager for the Padelford Riverboat Company. “Cruising up the Mississippi River taking in the scenery and nature never gets old to me. My favorite part about the company is all of the people I get to meet through this job. Everyone has a story to tell and makes a connection with one another when they are on the river. It is a side of Minnesota that not very many people are able to see.”
Since its inception, Padelford Riverboats has entertained more than 5 million guests, offering scenic tours along the river as well as themed cruises. The company also charters the vessels for private events and celebrations. All the boats now operate out of Harriet Island in downtown St. Paul and are equipped with dance areas, bars, sun decks and nostalgic decor and accents that make the journey along the Mississippi memorable.
The Padelford Riverboat Company operates three boats. The Jonathan Padelford has a maximum seating capacity of 100 and a standing capacity of 160. The Anson Northrup has a maximum seating capacity of 224 and a standing capacity of 300. The Betsey Northrup has a maximum seating capacity of 176 and a standing capacity of 300. Meeting planners can also book the Anson Northrup and the Betsey Northrup at the same time, as the vessels can hook together to create one big boat with a seating capacity of 400 and a standing capacity of 600.