Family biking by the Valley Gem sternwheeler (photo by Casey Rearick)

Valley Gem Sternwheeler, Marietta

An excursion on the Valley Gem sternwheeler is the perfect way to explore the history and charm of Marietta.

Watching the Valley Gem sternwheeler float down the Ohio River with its paddle wheel churning is a reminder of a bygone era. Yet the double-decker riverboat is a modern creation. Captain James Sands and his wife, Peggy, followed their dream of operating a sternwheeler by building the vessel in 1989. Since then, the Valley Gem has been docked in the historic town of Marietta — the first permanent U.S. settlement north and west of the Ohio River. 

Complete with modern amenities, including heat and air conditioning, the Valley Gem offers sightseeing tours May through November. The cruises typically last an hour and a half, with narration provided by the captain. 

“The [Ohio and Muskingum] rivers converging here is why Marietta was chosen as the point to move westward,” says Heather Sands, the Valley Gem’s general manager. “Not seeing the rivers is not seeing the town fully.” 

Special excursions set to return this summer include popular dinner cruises with themes such as a Murder Mystery, the Roaring ’20s and Downton Abbey. Other experiences include daylong tours showcasing Blennerhasset Island (serving breakfast and lunch) and Henderson Hall (offering dinner). Visitors can disembark to explore these historical sites. 
The passion for the Valley Gem remains a Sands family affair. Today, James and Peggy’s son, Jason, and his wife, Heather, are also part of the business. 

“Jason is a mechanic, I do marketing, and our family friend Don Sandford is an electrician,” Heather Sands says. “We all captain the Valley Gem. “It is all personal and thoughtful. We want to make sure it is a family-oriented place because we are family.”

601 Front St., Marietta 45750, 740/373-7862,