Steamboat Arabia artifacts to be appraised for the first time

Rebecca Crockett
September 09, 2019 - 4:00 am

Steamboat Arabia Museum


Kansas City, MO - In less than a decade, a staple in the Kansas City River Market will be shipping out. The lease on the Steamboat Arabia Museum expires in November of 2026. David Hawley, one of the discoverers of the Arabia says that time will fly by. He says it seems like two lifetimes ago that he, along with his dad and brother, left their heating and A/C company to become treasure hunters. It was in 1988 that they pinpointed the location and began to drill. 

"When the drill came up it was chips of wood, both pine and oak. When you get the combination of those two dissimilar types of wood plus iron at that depth, it can only be a steamboat," explains Hawley. 

He says it was almost too easy, that is until they began to dig. After about a week of work, they ran out of their fifty-thousand dollars. They went back to the bank for more money, and by the end of it, they'd spent close to a million dollars. 

What they discovered was beyond their expectations. They found shoes, clothes, dishes, and even pie filling that was completely preserved. 

They decided to keep their treasure, but they needed to find a building. They landed in an old abandoned vegetable wholesale warehouse.  That warehouse has become a stable in the City Market, having seen around three-million visitors go through. As they begin to look at what's next, Hawley says they have two options, "Sell off the collection piece by piece, or go dig more boats, become a bigger facility, and expand our story to tell other stories, and quite frankly, that's what I and the others would like to do as well."

He says in the next couple of weeks the collection will be appraised for the first time by Tim Gordon with The Antique Road Show. What Gordon determines could dictate the museums next move depending on its monetary and historic value. A proposed bill in the Missouri legislature could create a Steamboat Legacy Fund. Hawley says that would help make his dream of building a national steamboat museum a reality. 

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