The Arabia Steamboat Museum, located in Kansas City, Missouri, preserves the artifacts of the sunken, then recovered, medium-sized vessel called The Arabia Steamboat. The exhibits in the 30,000 square-foot building tell the story of the immigrant population during the mid-19th century and highlight the discovery of sunken treasures from the past.
Built in 1853, on the banks of the Monongahela River in Brownsville, the Arabia was a side-wheel steamer that carried passengers and cargo on a regular route and schedule. The boat was 171 feet long, 29 feet wide, and capable of carrying 222 tons.
In February 1855, the Arabia was sold for $20,000 to Captain John S. Shaw of St. Charles, Missouri. In the following spring, the Arabia entered the swift currents of the muddy Missouri for the first time. The boat was sold again, to Captain William Terrill and William Boyd in the spring of 1856.
In March of that year, the Arabia struck an obstacle and was nearly sunk, requiring repairs at nearby Portland. Three weeks later, the engine blew a cylinder head and was forced to return to St Louis. Despite those problems, the Arabia managed to make 14 trips between St. Louis and frontier communities, between March and August 1856.
The Arabia ran out of luck in its third brush with disaster; during its trip on the Missouri River in August 1856, its hull was ripped by a large, undetected walnut tree below the water level, which smashed cargo crates packed inside. Within seconds, thousands of gallons of muddy water gushed into the boat, sinking it into the depths of the river.
In the passage of time, the Missouri changed its course, then the Arabia lay about 45 feet underground in the old river channel. For many years, the story of the sunken boat cropped up in the conversation of locals in barber shops and barrooms, and in the process of being told and retold, the vessel's exact location became less precise.
The Arabia's location remained the subject of contention until November 1988. Jerry Mackey, and brothers Bob, David, and Greg Hawley, used an old river map to recover the rubble from a piece of land that bordered the Missouri River on the Kansas side.
Opened in 1991, following a major excavation of artifacts, the museum commenced to offer the largest peek anywhere at pre-Civil War treasure: the recovered cargo of the Arabia — china, hardware, cookware, jewelry, and food. Other items include glass bottles, several vials of French perfume, fabrics, sewing supplies, and personal belongings.
Also on display is the six-ton stern section of the boat, a full-sized reproduction of its main deck, featuring the boilers and paddlewheel in place as they would have been on the original vessel; the Arabia's huge boilers and steam engine, and the cargo hold.
Visitors can catch a rare glimpse of the Arabia's history and sinking, along with a short video presentation of the remarkable excavation. In addition, one can observe a working preservation lab and learn how materials are cleaned and preserved. The museum arranges a guided tour as well.