“Say Steam” Those are the special words the guide used when taking pictures of visitors on the steam-powered W.P. Snyder, Jr. at the Marietta River Museum in Marietta, Ohio. You can feel the river beneath your feet as you walk the deck, listening to the guide’s description of life on the river many years ago.
This early tugboat replaced the mules that walked along the banks of the river towing the barges. Tugboat probably wasn’t the best name for this type of boat, because they didn’t tug anything…they pushed it instead.
W.P. Snyder, Jr. was built in Pittsburgh in 1936 as the result of a terrible winter there. The wooden boats were brutally torn apart by the ice on the Monongahela River, so for the first time, a tugboat was constructed of steel by Carnegie Steel Co, and called W.H. Clingerman.
After years of service, it was retired due to its coal furnaces. In 1955, the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen purchased the boat, now re-named the W.P. Snyder, Jr. for $1.00, and moved it to the banks of the Muskingum River in Marietta. This tugboat is the last intact steam-powered, stern-wheeled tugboat in the United States.
But the effects of weathering made it necessary, in October of 2013, for the W.P. Snyder to leave the dock at Marietta for refurbishing, mainly on the exterior. The trip back had a slight delay because the Ohio River was too high in late May, 2014 for the W.P. Snyder to get under the Putnam Avenue Bridge.
Pushed back by two antique tugboats, Lady Lois (‘28) and J.S. Lewis (‘31) the W.P. Snyder, Jr is now moored at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers, ready for tour.
On board, you will see the Engine Room, where the engineer controlled passage by using not only steam but also electricity. A system of bells could be pulled to signal conditions or problems. There was even a telegraph handy for outside communication.
Officers and crew were provided completely separate living quarters on the upper deck. If at all possible, officers and crew went out of their way to keep from crossing paths. Two separate bathrooms, a laundry room, and kitchen completed the facilities onboard.
While the tugboat draws many visitors to the museum, there are three separate buildings nearby that contain a history of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, and the steamboats that frequented their waters.
An introductory film, History of Steamboats, opens the door to exploration inside the museum. The buildings are filled with models of steamboats, related artifacts, and stories of early life on the river…and much more!
Among the historic pieces, the exhibit contains a dug-out canoe that was used as a ferry between Fort Harmer and Marietta. There is even a reminder of Mark Twain through a display of an ornate mirror that hung in the Crystal Palace steamboat, where Mark Twain served as pilot.
Near the river’s edge, a flatboat that was used during Ohio’s early settlement is on display. Close by stands the oldest existing Western Rivers’ steamboat pilothouse from the steamboat, Tell City, which sank in 1917. An interesting section of poles shows the heights of some of the worst floods in Marietta history, three of the worst being : 54.5′ in 1884, 55′ in 1937 and 60.3′ in 1913.
Don’t miss the old shanty boat, probably from the 1920’s to 1930’s. It possibly could be the oldest surviving shanty boat on the inland river system. People actually lived on these boats or had businesses there. Many of those who lived on the boats were trying to hide from something. Here they could avoid taxes as they were always on the move, and needless to say, the shanty boat provided the perfect place for thieves and lawbreakers, of many sorts, to hide from the law.
These floating shanty boats were banned in 1930 from the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. However, a friend said when he was a kid in Parkersburg along the Ohio River, there were still shanty boats in the 50’s . Evidentally, more law breakers! The gypsy in me still likes the idea of being able to fly under the radar during those early years with no address, but much freedom.
End your day by cruisin’ down the river on the Valley Gem docked right next door to the Ohio River Museum.
The Ohio River Museum is located at 601 Front Street, Marietta, Ohio, one block from Ohio State Route 7, and minutes from I-77. Plenty of free parking is available and cost of admission is very reasonable.