Our last stop before leaving Kansas City was the Steamboat Arabia museum. This is a fascinating story about the Hawley family, who operates a Heating and AC business that became interested in wrecked steamboats on the Missouri River. They started studying the history of wrecked steamboats and how to find them. In total, they spent 20 years learning and searching for lost vessels. The search was made more difficult because over the decades the river changed its course many times both naturally and thru the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation.
Finally, they located a large vessel deep in the soil of a farm field miles from the current river location. That wreck turned out to be the Arabia lost on its maiden voyage carrying a large amount of cargo and settlers up river. No one lost their life in the wreck, but the ship and cargo was a total loss.
The Hawley’s plan was to salvage the wreck and sell whatever contents they could to offset their costs. The farmer agreed to a small percentage to allow them to dig up his property.
It turned into a massive project beyond their original expectations. What changed the whole scope of the project was the discovery of over 200 tons of perfectly preserved cargo that was a time capsule of life and goods of the time. In the end, they decided that the recovered materials could not be just sold off for a profit, but needed to be persevered for history.
We were fortunate enough to have one of the family members, who led the search and recovery of the artifacts tell us their story. He ended by saying that it seems like today, that the AC business is more a hobby and the museum and search for more vessels is their job.
Today, you can learn all about the Arabia and cargo and the lives of people who were on the edge of the American frontier at the time. In the end, it is also the story of the family and friends who devoted so much of their time to finding and preserving this amazing history.
This is another must see museum.