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The Barbara-Lee, an awesome stern-wheel paddle boat, offers its guests a unique experience out of the Monroe Harbour Marina in Sanford, Florida. Guests are welcome to book afternoon or evening cruises on the beautiful St. Johns River. A booking includes a fantastic meal on board, musical entertainment, wonderful scenic views and interesting tidbits of trivia. Many people book for events such as anniversaries, birthdays, and even wedding receptions.


  • The Barbara-Lee docked at Monroe Harbour Marina
  •  a full view of the Barbara-Lee from Lake Monroe
  • The Barbara-Lee
  • A view of the Barbara-Lee from an old dock
  • Food on the Barbara-Lee
  • Musical entertainment on the Barbara-Lee
  • A nice famliy eating on the Barbara-Lee
  • Bow of the Barbara-Lee
  • Barbara-Lee viewed from a passing boat

The Sanford River Ship Company is a corporation that offers lunch and dinner cruises on the St. Johns River. It is located at 433 N. Palmetto Ave, Sanford, FL 32771. Their ship is named the Barbara-Lee and it's named after the owners’ deceased beloved mother (Kellam). The cruise starts from the marina and continues around an island nicknamed Chicken Island by locals. This takes about 3 hours and gives you enough time to eat, enjoy the onboard entertainment and look around at the natural beauty that is the St. Johns River. Barbara-Lee is an old remodeled steam-powered stern-wheeler form the gulf coast and was made in 1986 and refurbished to a dinning cruise ship in 2012 (Stjohnsrivershipco). This five-story boat has massive wooden paddle wheels, is colored red and white, has lights on it during the Christmas season, can accommodate up to 194 guests, making it a fantastic venue to host a small to medium sized event. The 2 paddle wheels at the stern operate independently which makes steering of the ship easy for experienced helmsmen. The decks are called the Grand Salon Deck, Mezzanine Deck, Lookout Deck, Paddle Wheel Deck, and the Captain’s Deck (Stjohnsrivershipco ). The Barbara-Lee follows other St. Johns River boats named Grand Romance and the Rivership Romance. Barbara-Lee is owned by a family named Sternberg. The father is Bill; the mother was Barbara. Their son is John and there are two sisters. They are from Traves, Michigan and they used to own a restaurant called The Bean Pot (Kellam). Bill Maloney, the original owner, used to own the Rivership Romance that was docked at Monroe Harbour Marina. The old company failed when Rivership Romance had maintenance issues with its hull (Clarke).

Before hundreds of miles of highways crossed the state of Florida, even before railroads took over the nation, steamships were used in Florida for travel, transportation, and trade (Robison). Steamships were faster than sailboats and could travel longer distances. Historian Arthur E. Francke Jr. wrote that steamships were a vital part of the Second Seminole War. Camp Monroe was the southernmost point for steamships to transport troops and supplies as the Seminole War was going on. The camp was later renamed to Fort Mellon, the name honored Captain Charles Mellon who was killed by Seminoles during the war (Robison). Nine named steamships alongside thirty other unnamed steamships served Fort Mellon in 1837. The steamships were chartered by the army during the Second Seminole War. This was the first extensive use of steamships in warfare, according to Francke (Robison). They were also used to trade goods from Tampa Bay to Cuba and the Caribbean. Flagler in the 1890s built hotels along the Biscayne Bay and used steamships to carry passengers to the different hotels (Gannon). Steamships contributed to the Florida economy by attracting rich northerners to come and enjoy nice, warm Florida weather so they could get away from the cold (SJRWMD). By 1885 cities along the river grew as the local economy flourished (St. Johns Riverkeeper).

The St. Johns River which runs in a northernly direction, interestingly, was discovered in the early 1500s by Spanish seamen. After warfare over the years with the French, the Spanish named the river Rio de San Juan which means St. Johns River (SJRWMD). The name has stuck and many people live along the river, traverse the river for pleasure and of course the Barbara-Lee travels along it daily twice a day. Since 1890 many changes have occurred to the local economy transitioning businesses away from just using the river as a source to transport goods such as lumber and citrus. The Barbara-Lee contributes to the local Sanford economy since guests spend money in beautiful Sanford.The river has such an interesting history that in 1998 it was designated an American Heritage River by President Clinton. The St. Johns is the only river in Florida and one of only 14 rivers in the entire United States to receive this prestigious national recognition (St. Johns Riverkeeper).

The Barbara-Lee is a beautiful experience on the St. Johns River with delicious home-made food and known for their sticky buns. Seeing its huge paddles move the rivership as you have lunch or dinner on the St. Johns River is amazing. The age of the paddle boat is passed, however, the company is popular and many people from all over Florida and elsewhere book trips aboard it (Kellam). Besides their own website, many people learn about this experience via word of mouth. The Orlando Sentinel also featured this interesting boat cruise available on the St. Johns River out of Sanford, Florida.

Clarke, Sara K. “Sanford Gets New Riverboat for St. Johns Dinner Cruises.” Orlandosentinel.com, Orlando Sentinel, 10 Oct. 2012, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-sanford-new-riverboat-cruise-20121010-story.html

"Historical Facts about the St. Johns River.” SJRWMD, St. Johns Water Management, https://www.sjrwmd.com/waterways/st-johns-river/facts

 

 “History.” St. Johns Riverkeeper, St. Johns Riverkeeper, 1 Jan. 1970, https://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/about-us/our-river/history/.

The History of Florida, edited by Michael Gannon, University Press of Florida, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/scc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5399402.

 

Kellam, Dolores. Personal Interview. 8 Oct. 2019

Robison, Jim. Seminole Countys Centennial: Celebrating a Century of Success. The Donning Company Publishers, 2013.

 

“St. Johns Rivership Co.: Home.” Stjohnsrivershipco, St. Johns Rivership Co., 2016, https://www.stjohnsrivershipco.com/

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller

https://www.historicdowntownsanford.com/visit-historic-downtown-sanford-florida/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYc1XU92Xh8

https://www.stjohnsrivershipco.com/

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller

Courtesy of Cynthia Haller