Marietta’s W.P. Snyder heads to repair yard

Prior to Thursday, the W.P. Snyder Jr. – the only remaining steam-powered sternwheel towboat in the United States – had only moved from its place next to the Ohio River Museum three times in nearly 58 years.

So as the boat, a National Historic Landmark, was prepared to depart for Henderson, W.Va., and the second phase of a multimillion-dollar restoration project, dozens of people lined up along the Muskingum River to see it roaming the waterways once more.

“It’s a big occasion to see this thing move,” said Parkersburg resident James Houck, 57.

The last time the Snyder traveled the river on its own power was during its journey to Marietta in 1955. Since then, it has been towed once to a festival in Cincinnati and twice to shipyards to refurbish parts of it in an effort to keep the vessel intact for future generations.

In 2010, the hull of the 175-foot, 342-ton vessel was repaired in a $1.4 million project in South Point. The next phase began Thursday, as a crew from Charleston, W.Va.-based Amherst Madison unmoored the Snyder to tow it to their Henderson shipyard. There, the Snyder’s pilot house will be repaired, the exterior will be repainted and metal plates on the main and boiler decks will be replaced, as will the electrical system.

“This is everything above the water line, so it’s everything a visitor would notice,” said Shannon Thomas, communications manager for the Ohio Historical Society.

The price tag for this project is $958,000, with an Ohio Department of Transportation Transportation Enhancement Program grant covering $736,000 and the state providing the rest.

The Snyder is expected to be back in the Pioneer City by April 14, around the time the Ohio River Museum will reopen after its winter closure, said Le Ann Hendershot, director of the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums.

“If it weren’t for it (the Snyder), our attendance probably wouldn’t be what it is,” she said. “We’ve got the little models up here in the building, but now we’ve got the real thing.”

More than three dozen people – ranging in age from 5 to 90 – gathered at the river museum to watch as the Amherst Madison crew hooked the Snyder up to its towboat.

“I’m pretty excited about them getting it refurbished,” said Matt Talley, 25, a history major who recently moved to Marietta from Georgia.

He was invited down to watch the activities by Reno resident Art Jones, 77, who has volunteered as a tour guide on the boat for 17 years.

“It’s the history of it. It’s so interesting,” Jones said. “And to see young kids, especially school kids, go through it, they’ll bring their parents back to see it.”

Marietta resident Gary Van Fossen, 64, said the boat is an asset to the city.

“I’m glad to see that this vessel will be refurbished and look forward to seeing it come back,” he said.

The moving of the Snyder wasn’t the only attraction along the river Thursday. The Historic Harmar Bridge was turned to allow the towboat access to get to the Snyder and take it out to the Ohio River.

Mary Bosworth, 65, of Marietta, watched the turning of the bridge before heading up to check out the action on the Snyder itself.

“That (the bridge turning) was interesting, because my grandmother used to always tell me about it,” she said.