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Rare sternwheeler returned to Mid-Ohio Valley

Photo submitted by Ohio Valley River Museum The J.A. Cresap, a gas-powered sternwheeler, is the last of its kind in the U.S. and one of three left in the world. This is the only known photo of the boat in its original state.

After 96 years, the J.A. Cresap, a wood-hulled sternwheeler has finally returned home to Clarington.

The boat was brought back to Clarington through the efforts of the Ohio Valley River Museum. After repairs and restoration, the boat will be housed at the Hannibal Lock and Dam.

Taylor Abbott, museum president, said it is important to restore the Cresap because of its historical importance.

“It is one of only three left in the world…a wood-hulled, gas-powered sternwheel towboat,” he said. “And there’s only one of its kind in the U.S.”

The boat was built in 1923 at the Mozena Bros. Boat Yard in Clarington, for Moundsville, W.Va.- resident Joe Cresap. The towboat’s name changed each time it was sold and it eventually made its way to Guttenberg, Iowa, where it had been since the 1980s.

Photo submitted by Ohio Valley River Museum Workers fit the former J.A. Cresap through the bay doors at the Hannibal Industrial Park.

“Most wooden-hulled boats, if you got 10 years out of that boat, you were doing something amazing,” Abbott said. “To know this boat went through multiple sinkings and rescues, and someone tried to torch her when she was beached…the timbers were still moist, so the fire put itself out. Then there was the 750-mile journey by truck.”

Bill Reynolds, historian with the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums, said the boat is not what you’d see at the sternwheel festival.

“There’s nothing like this around. People can get a sense of what a 66-ton workboat was like,” he explained. “It’s not like the sternwheelers you think of today like the American Queen, the Mississippi Queen or the Delta Queen.”

The boat’s owner, Gary Frommelt, did not have the time or money to completely restore the boat, so he donated it to the museum in August. It will be housed at the Hannibal Industrial Park while it undergoes restoration.

Although it was supposed to be trucked to Hannibal in September, there were delays and the vessel didn’t start its 750-mile journey until Nov. 22. It traveled via a superload trucking company from Guttenberg to Hannibal, arriving on Nov. 26, Abbott said.

“They needed additional securements on the boat,” he said of the delay. “When the trucking company arrived, they realized they would have to do some additional things that required I-beams to be installed in the boat to connect it to the truck bed.”

Before the trip, the pilothouse and sternwheel were disassembled and put inside the boat.

“When it sees the light of day again, it will be completely finished with the pilothouse and sternwheel installed,” Abbott said. The boat will be around 75 feet long and 16 feet wide when restored.

He explained the boat won’t be restored to 1923 conditions, as it will not be put back in the water.

“We’re still doing structural and cosmetic repairs and restorations,” he added. “It’s going to be a static land exhibit.”

Over the winter months the boat will be assessed and a thorough restoration plan will be completed.

“Right now, our focus is finishing paying off the cost of transportation,” Abbott said. “We’ve already paid $10,500 toward the costs. We’re raised $10,000 with another $10,000 to go that we need to raise money for.”

Reynolds said it will be nice to have the last wooden-hulled, gas-powered sternwheeler just down the river from the W.P. Snyder Jr., which at 101 years old, is the last steam-powered, pull-type towboat.

“It’s a worthy project and the fundraising is ongoing,” he said. “Being around the Snyder for 40 years, it can swallow money quickly.”

Donations to the project can be made through the Marietta Community Foundation by mailing checks to the Marietta Community Foundation, c/o Ohio Valley River Museum Fund, P.O. Box 77, Marietta, OH 45750.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• Sternwheeler J.A. Cresap has arrived in Hannibal from Iowa.

• It was built in 1923 in Clarington.

• When restored, it will be dry-docked at Hannibal Lock and Dam.

• Repairs and restoration will be done at the Hannibal Industrial Park.

• It will take an estimated two years to finish the restoration.

Source: The Ohio Valley River Museum.

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