Bay Belle to Betterton

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At the end of W.W.II (1945) the Wilson Line, of Wilmington, started running one of their five excursion steamboats out of Baltimore. They chose Betterton as its destination, and every day, each summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Bay Belle would carry day trippers from a hot, humid, pre-A/C Baltimore to Betterton Beach. The Bay Belle was 206' long, powered by a 1,250hp triple expansion steam engine, and could carry up to 2,400 people on the 21/2 hour trip (each way). It seldom arrived full, but regularly carried 1,000 to 1,500 people who arrived hungry, anxious for some refreshment, a cool dip in the bay, and a souvenir to take home with them. This was not anything new for Betterton, excursion steamers from various lines had frequented it for over sixty years, at one time there were two operating piers and several boats a day would land, so the town in no small measure had been built on the trade they brought. The Wilson Line turned out to be the last steamship line to operate on the Chesapeake, and when the Bay Belle left Betterton on Labor Day of 1961 it ended what had been a nearly 150 year tradition of steamboats on the bay. Betterton would never be the same. There were a few years in the 70's when a much smaller boat, the M.V. Port Welcome, tried the run, but it was slower, smaller, and a diesel, not a steamship, also, by that time, many of the establishments that had supported the excursion trade had already gone out of business, and the Port Welcome did as well. Interestingly enough, the Bay Belle found new owners and for another decade sailed out of New York, up the Hudson, or to Rockaway Beach. Her end came in the winter of 1992 when she sank at a pier in Boston and was then scrapped.