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Arabia Steamboat Museum

The subject of a ground-breaking restoration programme, this fascinating relic offers a revealing insight into the past.

The Arabia steamboat was sunk by a tree as it made its way down the Missouri-Kansas River in 1856. The ship and its valuable cargo of retail stock lay undisturbed until 1988, when it was discovered under a cornfield. Now, following a pioneering programme of restoration, it has been saved for posterity and is housed within its own purpose-built museum.

The fascinating story of the Arabia unfolds as you wander around the museum displays. The recovered cargo reveals much about domestic life in 19th-century America, including clothes, household goods, china and other items destined for shops across the Midwest, as well as personal possessions belonging to the ship’s crew and passengers.

As well as exhibiting this fine collection of pre-Civil War artefacts, the museum also showcases the historic steamboat itself and explains its painstaking process of restoration. A short film illustrating some of the processes involved in reclaiming the vessel from its resting place and restoring it to near-original condition provides an informative introduction to the museum tour. Visitors can also view the original stern of the ship and learn about its meticulous reconstruction through multimedia displays.

A life-size recreation of the deck, complete with side-wheels, steam motors and boilers, allows a privileged insight into the working conditions on board a traditional steamboat. The tree that caused its untimely demise is also on display. Finally, it is possible to take a peek inside the laboratory where the delicate restoration work is carried out by skilled technicians.

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is in the River Market district on the south bank of the Missouri river, and is open every day except Sunday. The 90-minute guided tour is included in the admission price. Free parking is available nearby and the museum is also on a convenient bus route.


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