With a team of experts on board and a crowd of well-wishers on the shore, the 91-year-old W.P. Snyder Jr. was towed away from Marietta Friday, just as the boat had towed hundreds of barges during its 37-year career.
The historic boat, the last remaining steam-powered sternwheel towboat in existence, is on its way to South Point for a hull replacement and is expected to return to town in about eight months.
"She was lovingly sent off," said Mona Abele, of Marietta, who watched the Snyder unmoor and depart from its home near the Washington Street Bridge Friday morning. "It was wonderful to see. It just makes you proud to be in Marietta."
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
A worker balances on the sternwheel of the W.P. Snyder Friday as the boat heads out of town. More pictures are available at cu.mariettatimes.com.
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
Members of a crowd watching the W.P. Snyder depart Friday snap photos and wait for the boat too make its way down the river..
Fundraising for the $1.5 million hull replacement took several years, with the money ultimately provided by private donations, a state appropriation and a grant from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program.
"The work being done is all work you can't see, but we have to make sure the structure beneath the deck is secure," said George Kane, director of historical sites and facilities for the Ohio Historical Society. "It's been quite a big undertaking just to get it to this point... to get the financing and then to make sure we had the right people doing the work. This boat is so historically significant that you don't just treat it like any barge or tugboat on the river."
The W.P. Snyder was built in 1918 and was the first Carnegie Steel Company boat on the Ohio, Monongahela and Mississippi rivers, towing barges loaded with coal, iron, ore and steel products during the nation's industrial expansion.
When diesel towboats put steamboats out of business, the Snyder was donated to the Ohio Historical Society and has been in Marietta as an exhibit at the Ohio river Museum since 1955.
Marietta resident J.W. Rutter remembers the day in 1955 when the boat came to town.
"I had been interested in the river most of my life as a hobby," he said. "When they brought the Snyder in, I didn't get to be on it, but I did take movies and I followed it all day down from Wheeling."
The boat was just what Marietta needed at the time, said Rutter, a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen since 1940.
"We had the (Ohio River) museum established by then but the one thing we lacked was a towboat," he said. "We felt we should get a retired one and save it. In 1955, steam towboats were going out."
Rutter took part in a Valley Gem cruise that followed the W.P. Snyder for its first eight miles Friday and said the experience, which was problem-free for the boat, brought back memories.
"She looked good out there," he said afterward. "The sun came out and we were far enough away that you couldn't see the peeling paint... she seemed to tow along all right."
Rutter said he loves to see the Snyder on the banks of the Muskingum River in Marietta, but he was even happier Friday to see her go.
"It's been kind of sad to see the boat get to this point - this should have happened a year ago," he said. "It will look strange here while it's gone, and will leave a big gap in attractions, but it's worth it to get it fixed."
It's the second historic boat to sail out of Marietta this fall, with the Showboat Becky Thatcher leaving the city after 34 years on Oct. 15 for its new home in Pittsburgh. The Becky had been vacant for four years, and eviction proceedings had been initiated against the boat's owner by the city, with Marietta officials citing concerns about a lack of payment for use of city land and the continued decline of the 83-year-old boat.
Front Street resident Jesse Ray said he also had the Becky on his mind Friday as he watched the Snyder be pulled away.
"I hated to see the Becky go," he said. "This one will be missed, too, but it's not as sad because it's coming back. And it's been very fun to watch this process - it's not something you see every day."
As spectators and members of the local and national media crowded against the railing above the Snyder, a group of workers from McGinnis Inc., which will do the repairs, spent about 45 minutes unmooring the boat.
The crowd gave a cheer as the final pole holding the Snyder to land was released and fell, with a splash, into the water. The Snyder was on its way, set to travel 146 miles.
Two towboats were on hand to move the 342-ton, 175-foot-long vessel, which hasn't operated under its own power since arriving in Marietta in September of 1955. The Historic Harmar Bridge had to be turned and opened earlier in the day to allow the boat through.
It was mostly smooth sailing for the Snyder, although the back of the boat struck one of the poles it had just been released from as it turned away from shore. The boat wasn't hurt by the impact.
"It's moving faster than I thought it would," said Abele as she and her husband, Richard, watched it move under the Washington Street Bridge and head toward the Ohio River. "I thought it would be creeping along."
Richard Abele said he was glad the boat was finally getting needed repairs but will miss it if it's not back by May.
"It's much better for it to be going now and to be back for the summer," he said. "It's all worth it."