Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A trip to Kansas City, MO-Day 3

Our journey continued on Tuesday, when we stayed in Kansas City and decided to explore the Steamboat Arabia.  Interesting museum and well worth exploring.

Things found on the Steamboat Arabia

The steamboat Arabia was a side wheeler steamboat which hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank near what today is Kansas City, Kansas, on September 5, 1856.  In was rediscovered in 1988 by a team of researchers.  Today, the artifacts  that were recovered from the site are housed in the Arabia Steamboat Museum.

Paddlewheel of Steamboat Arabia

Things found on the Steamboat Arabia

The Arabia was built in 1853 around the Monogahela River in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.  Its paddle wheels were 28 feet across, and its steam boilers consumed approximately thirty cords of wood per day.  The boat averaged five miles an hour going upstream.  The boat traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before it was bought by Captain John Shaw, who operated the boat on the Missouri River.  Her first trip was to carry 109 soldiers from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Pierre, which was located up river in South Dakota.  The boat then traveled up the Yellowstone Rver, adding an additional 700 miles to the trip.  The trip took approximately 3 months to complete.

The boat was sold to Captain William Terrill and William Boyd, in the spring of 1856 and made fourteen trips up and down the Missouri during their ownership.  In March, the boat collided with an obstacle, nearly sinking.  Repairs were made in nearby Portland and a few weeks later, the boat blew a cylinder head and had to be repaired again.  The rest of the season was uneventful until September 5, 1856.

Things found on the Steamboat Arabia

On September 5, 1856, the Steamboat Arabia set out for a routine trip.  At Quindaro Bend, near the town of Parkville, Missouri, the boat hit a submerged walnut tee snag, which ripped open the hull and rapidly filled with water.  The upper decks stayed above water, and  the only casualty was a mule that was tied to sawmill equipment and forgotten.  The boat sank so rapidly into the mud that by the next morning, only the smokestacks and pilot house remained visible.  Within a few days the rest of the boat was swept away.  There were numerous salvage attempts and none of them successful.  Eventually, the boat was completely covered by water and over time, the river shifted a half mile to the east.  The site of the sinking is in present day, Kansas City, Kansas.

Things found on the Steamboat Arabia

Things found on the Steamboat Arabia

The property was purchased in the 1860's, by Elisha Sortor and over the years, legends were passed through the family that the boat was located somewhere under the land.  The exact location of the boat was lost over time.

In 1987, Bob Hawley and his sons, Greg and David, set out to find the boat.  They used old maps and proton magnetometer to figure out the probable location and finally discovered the Arabia half a mile from the river and under 45 feet of silt and topsoil.

The owners of the farm gave permission for excavation, with the condition that the work be completed before the spring planting.  The Hawleys, along with family friends, set out to excavate the boat during the winter months while the water table was at its lowest point.  They performed a series of drilling tests to determine the exact location of the hull, then marked the perimeter with powdered chalk.  Heavy equipment, including a 100-ton crane, was brought in by both river and road transport during summer and fall.  20 irrigation pumps were installed around the site to lower the water level and to keep the site from flooding.  The 65 foot deep wells removed 20,000 US gallons per minute from the ground.  On November 26, 1988, the boat was exposed and four days later, artifacts from the boat began to appear, beginning with a Goodyear rummer overshoe.  On December 5, a wooden crate filled with elegant china was unearthed.  The mud was such an effective preserver that the yellow packing straw was still visible.  Thousands of artifacts were recovered, including jars of preserved food that are still edible.  The artifacts that were recovered are housed in the museum.  On February 11, 1989, work ceased at the site, and the pumps were turned off.  The hole filled with water overnight.

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