Marietta resident Bee Rutter remembers making the journey from Brownsville, Pa. to Marietta aboard the majestic W.P. Snyder Jr., a trip she described as a “five-day party.”
That was 59 years ago, when the 96-year-old sternwheeler was purchased by the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen and the then-Ohio Historical Society for $1.
Thursday, Rutter stood on the banks of the Muskingum River at the Ohio River Museum to watch the Snyder return after months of repair work and several delays.
“It’s just good as new inside and out,” she said. “I hope to get back on it as soon as possible, as I have every summer it has been here.”
The Snyder recently finished about $1 million in repairs that lasted seven months. It was due to return home from Henderson, W.Va. on May 8, but high and fast river levels kept the vessel docked at the Lafayette Hotel.
After crews from Amherst Madison took the ship to Vienna W.Va., for safety reasons, the ship finally got to return home Thursday to a small crowd of excited fans that lined the banks to sneak a peek at her return.
“It’s such an interesting process, and it really is amazing to watch,” said Marietta resident Ann Anderson. “I’ve never lived on a river growing up, and it’s truly a unique experience.”
The ship underwent a major overhaul of its exterior, from a new electric system to new paint, which project coordinator Fred Smith of the Ohio History Connection, formerly the Ohio Historical Society, said is still a working process.
“You can’t argue with Mother Nature, that’s just the way it is,” he said. “We had to be flexible and wait it out, and though it would have been nice to get it here while kids were still in school, it’s here now.”
Smith said while docked at its home at the museum, crews will continue to finish the new electrical system that includes new lights.
“The crew really gave it their all; as if it was their own boat,” he said. “Now, it’s as pristine as it was in 1955.”
Rutter, who was involved with the museums and the ship’s upkeep for years with her husband, Woody, said she believes she is one of the last living people to have stepped foot on the Snyder during its 1955 glory.
“We still have quite an interest, and we’ve watched the museum grow and the Snyder change,” Woody said. “It is such a prized artifact to the area.”
The Rutters are both from Brownsville, Pa., close to Pittsburgh where the ship was built by James Rees and Sons Company in 1918.
Le Ann Hendershot, director of the Ohio River Museum, said visitation begins for the ship in June, though she said the electrical work going on might delay that process.
“We might have to wait a bit longer to see what else needs to be done, but for now it really looks magnificent,” she said.
Crews from Amherst Madison, the company that has worked in partnership with Ohio History Connection to complete renovations to the vessel, spent Thursday aboard the ship as well as waiting to hook the vessel to its moorings at the Ohio River Museum.
Jim Falkenberg, of Marietta, said it was not his first time seeing the Snyder, but he had yet to watch one of its many returns until now.
“It really looks amazing now, because when they took it away it definitely needed work,” he said.
Rick Allender, originally from Marietta, had traveled from Tallahassee, Fla., with his wife to visit family, and said he was delighted that he just so happened to arrive when the Snyder was returning.
“It was truly a blessing that we timed it that way,” he said. “We always try to come back, especially to see stuff like this, because we were used to being on the river with all the ships.”