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Historic towboat returns to Marietta after repairs at South Point facility

MARIETTA — The towboat W.P. Snyder Jr., a favorite attraction at the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio River Museum, will return to Marietta Friday, Sept. 17 after almost 10 months at a South Point shipyard for a new hull and paddle wheel.

The 92-year-old Snyder, a National Historic Landmark, is the last remaining steam-powered, sternwheel towboat in existence.

Like the hundreds of barges she pushed during her 37-year career as a working towboat, the Snyder will be towed up the Ohio River to Marietta. The historic sternwheeler has not operated under her own power since she arrived in Marietta on Sept. 16, 1955.

Moving the 342-ton, 175-foot-long Snyder on the 146-mile voyage will be a challenge. McGinnis, Inc., the firm that did the repairs, will tow the Snyder with two tugboats pushing barges secured to her starboard and port sides. The flotilla will start up river Thursday, Sept. 16 and overnight along the way. At 8 a.m., Friday, it will make a brief 30-minute stop at Neale Marine Transportation facility, north of Vienna, W. Va., and is expected to reach Marietta about 9:30 a.m. It will have passed through the Robert C. Byrd Locks (Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va.), Racine Locks (Letart,W.Va.) and Bellville Locks (Reedsville).

At the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, the barges will be untied and the Snyder will be carefully maneuvered by the tugs up the three-quarter-mile stretch of Muskingum River to its berth at the Ohio River Museum.

The move will be a sight as the Snyder and the boats towing her must go under three bridges: the historic Harmar Railroad Bridge, which must be turned open by hand for the boats to pass; Putnam Street Bridge; and Washington Street Bridge.

The Snyder is expected to arrive at the museum about 11 a.m. It will take the rest of the day to secure her moorings and prepare her for public tours.

The cost of the first phase of the project, which included lead abatement, a new hull and paddle wheel, was $1.4 million.

The preservation of the W.P. Snyder Jr. is made possible by a grant from the Save America’s Treasures program of the National Park Service, by an appropriation from the State of Ohio capital improvements fund, by grants from the J. Mack Gamble Fund of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen and by donations from individuals, community organizations, corporations and foundations.

All boats are invited to escort the Snyder on this final leg of the journey departing from Neal Marine on Friday at 8:30 a.m. A City of Marietta fireboat will be stationed at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers to welcome back the Snyder by pumping thousands of gallons of water per minute in the air.

For a closer view of the Snyder’s return, the Valley Gem Sternwheeler will be offering a 2-hour cruise with continental breakfast. Singer Debbie Tuggle Pendley will entertain passengers with original river songs and stories. Tuggle Pendley, who just completed 10 years of concerts on the River Explorer, an excursion vessel out of New Orleans, composed “Always a River,” the theme song for the floating exhibit of the same name traveling the length of the Ohio River in the early 1990s. Boarding starts at 8:30 a.m. with departure about 9 a.m.

Tickets are $25 each. For reservations, call the Valley Gem at 740-373-7862 or go online at www.valleygemsternwheeler.com.

The Ohio River Museum will be hosting two festive “Welcome Back W.P. Snyder Jr.” events Sept. 17 and 18:

At 7 p.m., Friday, Debbie Tuggle Pendley will perform again on the riverfront at Ohio River Museum. Home movies of the Snyder will be shown along with readings from the writings of Capt. Fredrick Way Jr., the last pilot of the Snyder. The public is invited to bring their lawn chairs and coolers. The event is free, but donations to the Ohio River Museum will be accepted.

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., the Ohio Historical Society, Friends of the Museums and Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen will officially welcome the Snyder back.