Conneaut Lake Garden Club goes cruising on sternwheeler

The Meadville Tribune
Thursday, August 27, 2015

Conneaut Lake Garden Club members and their guests recently enjoyed  a boat cruise aboard the Barbara J. sternwheeler while learning about the glacier formation Conneaut Lake.

Brian Pilarcik of the Crawford Conservation District presented the program, describing glacial features and facts about Conneaut Lake's watershed and surface areas. Refreshments were served afterwards and special guest Mary Spicer gave a brief history of the Sternwheeler's inaugural voyage.

Backyard gardeners and enthusiasts at all levels of experience are welcome at club meetings and programs.

More information:  Call Sandy Eldridge at (814) 382-6141.


Back on the water

Historic Barbara J makes return voyage at Conneaut Lake

The Meadville Tribune
By Jean Shanley
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Special to the Tribune

CONNEAUT LAKE  ̶  Anna Neuberger is only 4, but she knew she had done something special Saturday.  She had helped steer the Barbara J on its first public cruise around Conneaut Lake this summer.  It had only recently been put into commission and had taken only private parties this summer until Saturday.

The little girl's eyes danced with excitement as she went from the deck of the Barbara J to the bottom deck to proudly announce to her parents and grandparents, "I got to drive the boat."

Anna and her sister, Maddy, 6, were among the guests riding the boat when Capt. Audie Hays proudly announced, "Welcome aboard the Barbara J," and encouraged the guests to relax and enjoy the trip around the lake on the popular historic paddlewheel boat which had been out of commission earlier this summer.

Anna and Maddy did just that  ̶  going from the top deck to below often during the 90-minute trip around the lake.

They were thrilled when "Captain Audie" allowed them to put their hands on the steering wheel and "drive" the boat.

Lest anyone think they had been driving solo, their mother, Jennifer, quickly added, "Captain Audie helped, of course," equally pleased with the gesture Hays had made to the girls to make their first trip on the Barbara J very special.

The Neuberger sisters may have never had a chance to captain the Barbara J had its original sale gone through in July.  It was nearly sold to a prospective buyer in another state, but that deal fell through.  But thanks to a Conneaut Lake resident, it appears the paddleboat will stay in Conneaut Lake indefinitely.

The Neuberger family (Jennifer and husband, Bill, and the girls) are from Gibsonia and purchased a house in the Conneaut Lake area two years ago to come up on the weekends.  They were joined this weekend by the girl's grandparents, Joanne and Doug Vogel.

Jennifer said last weekend they saw the boat on the water with a sign advertising the rides and had seen mention of it on the Conneaut Lake Memories Facebook page.  So they decided to take the ride as something fun for the kids and to learn more about the history of the town.

They enjoyed the ride  ̶  especially the children who loved the experience of riding around the lake, "driving the boat" and also seeing the paddles that helped run the paddleboat.  They also giggled at dogs they saw in the water at various spots along the way and pointed out different sights to their parents.

Maddy said she also liked "when she pulled the horn."

Dutchmen in a canoe along the route also liked the horn  ̶  motioning to Hays to sound the horn as the Barbara J passed.  And he complied with their request.  As it rode around the lake, people on docks cheered and waved as it passed, and then Hays responded with a horn salute.

The boat, which has been on the lake since 1972, was been put up for sale earlier this year and almost went to a buyer from Wisconsin.

In July after an inspection was made, the prospective buyer realized it would require too many costly renovations for use on the open waters in Wisconsin, so the prospective buyer pulled out from the deal, according to Jack Slater, former Barbara J owner.

That's when local businessman Ron Anderson stepped in and bought the Barbara J because he and so many others wanted to keep the boat on Conneaut Lake.

Since taking over ownership, Anderson has had the boat renovated  ̶  including a new paint job, carpeting and replacing the roof on the double-decker.  The windows are to be replaced soon, and air conditioning and heating will be added to the boat.

The heaters will allow it to be on the lake when Christmas trees, which surround the lake in the winter, are lit for the holiday season.

Anderson was not onboard the Barbara J Saturday, but he was at the site just before the boat left the dock.

Anderson declined to say how much money he has invested in the Barbara J.  "We're still tallying," he said.  Anderson previously invested more than $500,000 to purchase and renovate the former High Street Community Church into a town hall and community center.  He later donated the town hall to Conneaut Lake borough.

But why did he buy the boat?  "Why not?" Anderson said.  He believes all business people in the area should be interested in such projects.  Anderson, who owns a couple of housing complexes in Vernon Township, said he plans to be around for a long time.

The operation of the Barbara J has been turned over to a new nonprofit organization, Barbara J LLC, which will handle the operations.  Chad and Carole Waldschmidt, Larry Shipton and Greg Bush are sponsors who have assisted with financing as well as other work on the boat.
Plans are progressing now for the remainder of the season, Carole Waldschmidt said.  The nonprofit is working with Vacavi Café, the Downtown Mall Bistro and other caterers for proving food for private parties who use the boat.  There currently aren't plans to provide alcohol, noting guests may take their own beverages onto the boat.

Plans are to resume the popular Sunday brunch tours, but that may not happen for a while, Waldschmidt said.

In the meantime, public tours leave the dock at Ice House Park at noon and 5p.m. each Saturday and noon on Sunday.  Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children, payable when boarding.  The boat can hold about 70 for each ride.

Arrangements for private parties or questions about the operation may be directed to (814) 382-RIDE or visit