Through The Lens: A Passage Into History
Last Saturday was among summer’s nicest days so far. Blue skies with soft clouds along with temperatures in the mid-seventies made it a perfect day for a river cruise. Mary and I along with friends Connie and Earl Yost traveled to Marietta to be part of the annual river outing sponsored by the Ohio Valley River Museum located in Clarington. The afternoon cruise was on board the stern wheeler, Valley Gem.
The Ohio Valley River Museum was established to preserve the rich history of the Ohio River. Within its walls you will find the story of the river in pictures, writings and artifacts. Visitors can learn about local locks and dams and Clarington’s past history of boat building in the early part of the 20th century. A visit to the museum will give guests an understanding how towns along the valley have grown with the help of the many boats that have traveled the river for over two-hundred years.
While on board the Valley Gem, we traveled approximately three miles up the scenic river. Near the upper end of the passage we watched as our boat passed through Lock #2. As boats have for many years, our boat was raised from the lower pool to the upper stage on the river. The locking system has been in operation for a good part of its 187 year history. Only floods and winter weather have prevented the locks from operating. The eleven dams adjacent to the locks were built to create a standard channel depth of six feet for boat passage making the 112 miles of river fully navigable. This opened the water way to central Ohio for trade with towns along the Ohio River. Then after 116 years in operation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided the ten locks on the river were no longer needed. Fortunately, it was realized by the state of Ohio that the locks and dams were an important part of the state’s history and needed to be preserved. After working out the details, the state in 1958 took on the task of maintaining and operating the locks and dams. This decision saved the last remaining system of manually operated waterway locks in the country.
Our trip up the Muskingum was about more than being part of the river’s history for the day. Taylor Abbott, President of the Ohio Valley River Museum explained to guests about a project the museum has undertaken. This project has been in the making for ten years. He gave an update on the return of the J.A. Cresap, the last remaining wooden boat built by Mozena Bros. Boat Yard in Clarington Ohio. The river boat was completed in 1923. Abbott explained the boat is being prepared for its long trip from Iowa, back to the valley. That return trip is expected sometime in the next few weeks. The road trip for the boat is no easy undertaking. At a length of 66 feet by 16 feet wide and weighing 27 tons, the Cresap will be truly a super load on the road. On arrival, it will be taken to the Hannibal Industrial Park where it will undergo a full restoration. After inspection, it can be determined the amount of time needed to complete the work. After restored, it will then be moved to the Hannibal Lock and Dam site where it will be put on exhibit for public viewing. It will join the Lock 15 wicket tender and section of the old dam now on display.
Our travel up the Muskingum River gave us a sense of what it must have been like when the J.A. Cresap first set out so many years ago. For the guests on the boat with whom I spoke, they were all very supportive of the return of the J.A. Cresap. They also expressed their pleasure to the members of the museum’s board for undertaking the task of bringing back an important part of local history. If you are a fan of river history and want an enjoyable afternoon of river travel, you may think about a trip up the Muskingum River. And in the future you will be able to visit the J.A Cresap at the Hannibal Locks and Dam after its return Through the Lens.