The riverfront will be bustling this weekend as the Rivers Institute at Hanover College and the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site celebrate the power and the legacy of steam.

Two steamboats, the Belle of Cincinnati and the Belle of Louisville, will race on the Ohio River on Saturday afternoon, starting at the boat ramp at the foot of West Street.

Tickets are still available for $25 to ride along for two hours as the boats try to outdo each other during one of the River Institute's Steamboat Celebration events honoring the 200th anniversary of the first successful steamboat voyage down the Ohio River.

Watching the race from the Madison riverfront will be free.

There also will be cruises on the steamboats, and the public can tour them from 8 to 9:30 Saturday morning while they are docked for $1 a person.

The cruise price lists are online at Reservations for the cruises can be made online or by calling the Rivers Institute at (812) 866-6846 for the Belle of Louisville or (800) 261-8586 for the Belle of Cincinnati. The Belle of Cincinnati moonlight cruise Friday has been canceled.

No reservations are needed for the $1 tours, and it might be possible to buy a ticket on-site for a cruise if it isn't sold out, a Rivers Institute spokeswoman said.

Steamboats are credited with being the game-changers for the growth and development of the United States.

When the steamboat New Orleans left Pittsburgh, Pa., and headed downriver in October 1811 - passing the two-year old Madison settlement on the way to the city of New Orleans - it heralded a new age in commerce and transportation. When the New Orleans later went upriver, the die was cast, because it showed that goods and people could be moved both directions with relative ease.

Steam also is credited with leading to America's Industrial Revolution, and that is one benefit of steam that will be celebrated on the south side of the Lanier Mansion State Historic site, 601 W. First St.

Admission to the Legacy of Steam is $5 for adults and $3 for children.

The exhibits will range from huge - requiring cranes donated by the Clifty Creek power plant to put them in place - to tabletop models.

The displays will include an 1875 horse-drawn Village Steamer Fire Engine, an 1875 Gaar-Scott tractor manufactured in Indiana, a steam-powered traction engine from the Civil War, a Stanley Steamer automobile, a 1960s steam-powered racing car and 15-ton steam traction engines.

The Legacy of Steam Power Show will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Also as part of the event at the Lanier Mansion, Kevin Stonerock, a Hoosier storyteller, musician and historic interpreter, will perform selections from "Steamboat Tales" on Saturday, sponsored by the Rivers Institute. At 1 p.m. he will portray Nicholas Roosevelt, who built the New Orleans for owners Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston and then took his family along as the first passengers. At 3 p.m. he will present "Steamboat's a-Coming," vignettes about steamboats and life along the river.

Stories - whether true or not - will be told about steam, steam power and steamboats at the "Liar's Bench: Is It Steam or Just Hot Air?" at noon Saturday at the Lanier Mansion. Prizes will be given for the adult and youth winners.

The Madison Community Players Theater Company will present "Slow Boat, or The Fate of the Delta Queen," an old-fashioned melodrama, at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Lanier Mansion.

The Lanier events also will include hayrides and old-time games and toys.

Friday will be the last day for the "Steamboat a Comin': The Legacy of the New Orleans" exhibit at Duggan Library at Hanover College. The library is open 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Rivers Institute, as is a talk Sunday by James Alexander Thom, a native Hoosier who write historical fiction including "Follow the River" and "From Sea to Shining Sea." He will talk on "Of Times and Rivers: Downstream in History" at 2 p.m. at Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St. He will sign books afterward.

Without the steamboat, an unidentified Frenchman wrote in 1840, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois "would today be a desert unknown to civilization." He was quoted in "Steamboats on the Western Rivers" by Louis C. Hunter.