Damage to the Historic Mary Woods No. 2 Sternwheeler at Jacksonport State Park Deemed Beyond Repair

Article follows the photos:
For Immediate Release

(JACKSONPORT, Ark.)--The Mary Woods No. 2, the historic sternwheeler that was moored in an inlet of the White River at Jacksonport State Park and served as one of the park’s two museums, sank on January 30, 2010. The boat landed on its side in approximately 20 feet of water; five feet of the vessel remained above the water line.

A salvage operation was conducted to raise the boat from the bottom on the White River and determine the extent of the damage, which proved to be severe. According to State Parks Director Greg Butts, estimated costs to reconstruct the vessel ranged from $1.8 million to $2.7 million. At its February 2011 meeting, the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission, the policy and advisory board over the state parks, voted to remove the boat from Jacksonport State Park with any proceeds from its sale to be invested in the planned park visitor center construction project including exhibits and furnishings. The commissioners stressed that any salvageable components be included in the center’s interpretive exhibits.

Butts noted that it was through the efforts of the Jackson County Historical Society that the Mary Woods No. 2 was donated to Jacksonport State Park by the Potlatch Corporation in 1967. Public tours of the boat began in 1976.” He said, “The Mary Woods No. 2 cost an estimated $71,000 when built in 1931.” On March 1, 1997, a tornado cut a half-mile-wide swath through Jacksonport and the park inflicting heavy damage to the town and the park’s 1872 Jackson County Courthouse and the Mary Woods No. 2. According to Butts, $870,000 was spent restoring the boat then. “Arkansas State Parks and the Jackson County Historical Society are in agreement that this time the boat’s damage is beyond repair. The money would be better spent invested in the park’s planned visitor center rather than reconstructing the sternwheeler, especially in light of the loss of her historical elements.”

According to Charlotte Plegge, Jackson County Historical Society liaison to the park, “The Jackson County Historical Society regrets, but understands, the decision by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism not to authorize a reconstruction of the Mary Woods No. 2. We understand the funding needed for such a project is not possible at this time.” She said, “The Society is especially saddened by her loss, since she was such a significant presence at Jacksonport State Park.”

Plegge noted that the Society saved and restored the 1869 Jackson County Courthouse in the early 1960s so that it could be used as a museum for the display of artifacts from Jackson County families. The courthouse is the park’s dominant feature. “One of Jacksonport State Park’s missions was to keep the story of riverboat travel alive,” she said. “The Society recognized early on that a critical element of that river story was lacking. The missing connection was an authentic riverboat, the reason for the rise of Jacksonport in the first place.” Plegge continued, “From the first days after her arrival, the Mary Woods No. 2 became the ‘face’ of the park. By using her as a living example, the staff at the park did an impressive job of interpreting the life and experience of the riverboat era for visitors for 40 years. The Society expresses their deep appreciation for that.”

The late Lady Elizabeth Luker, champion of the entire Jacksonport preservation project, wrote about the vessel after its widely-heralded arrival at the park. In Luker’s words, “Steamboat trade was the prime factor in the growth of Jacksonport and the rapid development of north central Arkansas along the Black and White rivers. Thus the presence of an authentic sternwheeler is a visual symbol of a part of the past history of Jackson County. Commerce, mail, communication, business and pleasure were centered on the steamboat arrivals and departures at this busy river port.”

On behalf of the Jackson County Historical Society, Plegge extended gratitude to the State Parks Division for its strong support of the park and especially for its major investment after the devastating tornado of 1997. “Both the courthouse and the Mary Woods No. 2 required extensive repairs and restoration. The citizens of Jackson County have tremendous pride in that each was restored in a first-class manner,” she said.

“Knowing that the Mary Woods No. 2 was virtually beyond reasonable repair after its sinking in 2010, the Society has begun looking at alternatives to her,” Plegge emphasized. “We look forward to working creatively with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, as we have done for many years, to once again make the ‘Steamboat Era’ a major part of the Jacksonport experience.”

The history of the steamboat Mary Woods No. 2 began in 1931 when Eugene Woods, owner of a lumber and milling operation in Memphis, needed a new boat to replace the boat then in use. The existing boat had a wooden hull, and Mr. Woods desired a more durable boat. So he designed the Mary Woods No. 2, which he named for his daughter. The hull, consisting of 16 steel compartments, was constructed by the Nashville Bridge Company in Nashville, Tennessee. The remainder of the boat, including the cabin and sternwheel, were constructed in Memphis by Mr. Woods. Designed for river travel, her flat hull drew less than four feet of water, making her able to work shallow water passing sand bars and operate close to riverbanks. She was 136 feet long and weighed 157 tons. A powerful sternwheeler, her two, 300 horsepower steam engines allowed her to confidently work the Mississippi, White, Black, Cache, and other rivers moving logs from cuts to mills. The Mary Woods No. 2 worked with two barges which could each carry 85,000 board feet of logs. Originally a coal burning steamboat, the boat was converted to a fuel burning steam vessel in 1937. In 1949 the Mary Woods No. 2 was once again transformed, this time from oil-burning steam power to diesel engines.

A thorough restoration spanning three years was completed in 2000 after the 1997 tornado and brought the steamboat as close to her actual operating appearance as possible. No details were overlooked in the exhibits telling the story of this work boat. Inside, shelves were filled with canned goods, bread was rising on the sideboard, and the captain’s table set for dinner. The voice of captains past could be heard telling their stories of life on the Mary Woods No. 2.

Jacksonport State Park is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The park is on Ark. 69 in Jacksonport.

For further information, contact: Mark Ballard, park superintendent, Jacksonport State Park, 205 Avenue Street, Newport, AR 72112, phone: 870-523-2143, e-mail: mark.ballard@arkansas.gov; or Charlotte Plegge, Jackson County Historical Society, P.O. Box 711, Newport, AR 72112, phone: 870-523-2461, e-mail: cplegge@suddenlink.net.

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