‘Robert E. Lee’ name being removed from Lowell Showboat

The Lowell Showboat on Aug. 17, 2017.


LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — Robert E. Lee will be no more in Lowell.

In the midst of the national debate on how history should be recognized, city officials have decided the Lowell Showboat, a mainstay along the Flat River for decades, will no longer be named after the Confederate general.

On the Riverwalk near the Showboat dock, the decision is drawing praise from some and criticism from others.

“I think it should be taken off, the way times are today. It’s time to change,” says Rex Byrne.

“Robert E. Lee is Robert E. Lee. It’s a person in history. It’s all things you remember, whether it’s good or bad or whatever,” said Judy Moorehead.

The Lowell Showboat came to be as a way to attract people to town during the Great Depression.

Early on, Lowell leaders decided to build a more authentic boat, reminiscent of the classic river boats that sailed the Mississippi.

“At that point, they came up with the name Robert E. Lee based on a boat that they had seen down there,” said Lisa Plank, Director of the Lowell Historical Museum.

But in 2017, the name on the boat has landed in the middle of the national debate on how history should be recognized.

A petition drive was started on the website change.org to remove the name.

A Lowell City Council member resigned after comments he made defending the name were called racist by an outside group.

On Thursday, Lowell’s City Manager Mike Burns released a statement, noting the recent grant from the state to build a new showboat, and that a committee was already considering renaming the boat.

“While most of West Michigan refers to it simply as the Lowell Showboat, we recognize that the name is offensive to many. We will be taking steps this week to remove the name on the boat,” Burns said in the statement.

In a special room inside the Lowell Historical Museum sits a model of one of the showboats.

The name will remain on the replica.

“It was a piece of history as the Robert Lee for 70 years on our river,” said Plank.

But she says both the current and new boat, which will likely be named after someone local who was part of the showboat’s history, doesn’t hold the same historic value.

“Was the Lowell Showboat a direct correlation to a statue in the south? I don’t personally see it that way,” Plank said. “But we’re looking at rebuilding our showboat and it’s a good time for us to look back on our own history as well.”