The legend of the Steamboat Arabia is a blend of two stories. One begins many years ago on the West bank of the Mississippi River in the bustling waterfront of St. Louis, Missouri. It was here, in the year 1856, over 200 tons of winters supplies was loaded aboard the Arabia for delivery to the western frontier, nearly 1,000 dangerous miles up the mighty Missouri River. The second is a younger story. Its telling describes the efforts of a family and friends who went in search of the Arabia’s riches and found instead a time capsule so immense and so remarkably preserved they would dedicate themselves to preserving the treasures for future generations to see and enjoy.
The story is told here in six very condensed parts. Please click any of the titles to learn more about the legend of the Steamboat Arabia.
The Steamboat Arabia: Built in the boat-yard of John S. Pringle in 1853 she would survive only 3 three years of service on the shallow and unpredictable western-river system. During is life it logged thousands of miles on the Mississippi and Missouri River. In the year 1855 it traveled north on the Missouri to the Yellowstone River in North Dakota.
Head’n West: The story of Westward Expansion typically brings to mind stories of covered wagons and pioneers trudging along dusty trails. Often overlooked was the important role the steamboats played in moving passengers and freight from around the world to the growing frontier settlements along the western rivers.
Terror Aboard The Arabia: Pushing off from the dock in St. Louis, the Arabia carried supplies for 16 town located far up the Missouri River. In addition to its 200-ton cargo, there were about 130 passengers aboard bound for a new life on the frontier. No one aboard could have imaged the disaster that awaited them just one week later.
The Arabia Rediscovered: Concealed for 132 years the resting place of the Steamboat Arabia was discovered in July 1987. Using a metal detector, weathered maps, and old newspaper clippings to guide the search, the Arabia was discovered 45 feet underground and a half-mile from the present channel of the Missouri River.
The Adventure Begins: Challenged by the extreme cold temperatures of the winter digging schedule, dwindling finances, abundant amounts of recovered artifacts that required immediate conservation attention, and the ever-present ground water that remained a constant challenge, the work preceded daily throughout the long months of winter.
The Arabia Steamboat Museum: As the excavation team became increasingly aware of their priceless discovery, the decision was made to display the treasures rather than simply sell them. By now, the recovery and preservation expenses had topped one million dollars. With little option but to borrow more money for a museum space, the work began restoring a nearly run-down produce wholesale building that would eventually house this enormous collection. Three years later in November, 1991 the Arabia Steamboat Museum opened its doors to the public.
World Class Attraction: Today, the Arabia Steamboat Museum is one of the Mid-West’s most popular attractions. It’s been featured in such notable venue’s as Good Morning America, Readers Digest, Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story”, Antiques Roadshow, National Geographic, Wired, Midwest Living, Smithsonian, New York Times and many others. So, you might say the Steamboat Arabia has been making news for over 150 years. Have you seen it yet?