Hundreds lined both banks of the Muskingum River Friday morning, hoping to witness a unique experience only life on the river can provide.
"I've lived here 60 years," said Chris Cook, of Reno, "and I've never seen them turn that bridge."
She was speaking of the Historic Harmar Bridge, which was opened by about half a dozen men in bright orange life vests a little past 10 a.m., to make way for the returning W.P. Snyder Jr.
Students from Harmar Elementary stood in anticipation, a capacity load waved from the Valley Gem sternwheeler and dozens set up lawn chairs at the Marietta Harbor as the 92-year-old Snyder made its way from the Ohio to the Muskingum River, on its way home to the Ohio River Museum.
In November, the boat was removed and taken to the McGinnis Shipyard in South Point where it was to undergo a $1.4 million renovation project. Evidence of the work replacement of the paddle wheel was very noticeable as the boat cruised past, assisted by two tugboats.
"Unfortunately the major portion of the renovation, replacement of the hull, is not visible from outside the boat," said George Kane Jr., director of the Ohio Historical Society's historic sites and facilities, who followed the returning W.P. Snyder Jr. from the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers aboard the Valley Gem.
ERIN O'NEILL The Marietta Times
The W.P. Snyder Jr. passes by the Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge Friday as it returns to Marietta after a major renovation project.
ERIN O'NEILL The Marietta Times
Muscle power gets the bridge turned to allow the sternwheeler to pass on the Muskingum River.
"Our goal is long-term preservation of Ohio's historic resources, and this boat is a national treasure," Kane added. "It's the only one of this type that's still in the water - a unique steam-powered vessel. Marietta is a wonderful town, and having the Snyder here complements the city's historical significance."
For many on the Harbor side of the river, the highlight was seeing the bridge turn and witnessing a piece of history floating by.
"I think it's pretty cool," said Tiffany Cook, 38, who accompanied her mother, Chris, to the welcome party.
5 Things to know about the W.P. Snyder Jr.
The boat is 175 feet long and 32 feet wide and has a paddle wheel of 21 feet in diameter.
The vessel weighs 342 tons.
It is equipped with two sets of compound engines which generated 750 horsepower each, total of 1,500 horsepower.
The Snyder's entire career was spent towing barges loaded with coal, iron ore and finished steel products on the Ohio River and its tributaries.
The Snyder is the last remaining steam-powered, sternwheel towboat still afloat.
Source: Ohio Historical Society, Times research.
Elaine Glazier of Barlow brought her three children down to see the spectacle and used the occasion as a chance to teach them something about the area's history.
"We home school, and this is definitely a lesson in Ohio history," she said. "I think it's wonderful that Marietta has something like this to offer."
The W.P. Snyder Jr.'s journey home from the South Point dry docks would have been uneventful except for one problem that developed just north of Ravenswood, W.Va., where an 8-inch pipe that helps support the sternwheel slipped out of its position.
Around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the tugboat pilot noticed a bolt holding a smaller bracing tube had rusted through and caused the larger pipe to fall, according to Bill Reynolds, historian for the Ohio River and Campus Martius museums, who was aboard the Snyder from South Point to Marietta.
"We tied up to a sunken barge near Ravenswood and waited for a welder to make the repair," Reynolds said.
Kim Schuette, communications and media relations manager for the Ohio Historical Society, said the sternwheel suffered no significant damage.
"Once the Snyder is secured to her moorings at the Ohio River Museum, a permanent repair will be made (to the bracing)," she said.
The sternwheeler's return to its moorings at the museum along the Muskingum River Friday happened 55 years and one day after the vessel first arrived in Marietta.
Floyd Barmann, site manager for the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums, said the Snyder was missed.
"This is half of our river museum," he said. "Marietta has a tremendous boat-building history, and the Snyder is a big part of the experience for our visitors."
Barmann noted that attendance numbers at the Ohio River Museum had not suffered during the W.P. Snyder Jr.'s absence, due largely to the increased hours that the facility is open throughout the week. Previously the museum was only open on weekends.
Barmann said tours aboard the Snyder will resume Saturday when a special welcome home ceremony for the vessel will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Ohio River Museum. Ohio first lady Frances Strickland is scheduled to make a major announcement about the next phase of the boat's restoration.
Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen called the W.P. Snyder Jr. "symbolic of the whole Marietta story. Our rivers were the first interstate highways in this country, and more than 160 steamboats were built here over the years. Our levees and landings were centers of the community.
"And everything about the Snyder is authentic - it was always a work vessel - and what visitors see is not a dressed-up boat," he said. "People want to see the real deal."
On Friday night, more than three dozen people gathered at the river museum to hear readings from work by Fred Way, a riverboat captain, artist and author, who accompanied the Snyder on its journey to Marietta in 1955. Kentucky-based singer-songwriter Debbie Tuggle Pendley performed original songs inspired by the Ohio River.
"I'm looking at the river I write about all the time," she told the crowd. "You can't imagine the goosebumps on my arms."
Evan Bevins contributed.