The Mary Woods No. 2: An Opportunity For Batesville
National Tourism Week, celebrated in downtown Batesville on May 10th, reminded me that Batesville does not have a major tourist attraction. Visitors to Batesville come to attend festivals or seasonal events: the Arkansas Scottish Festival at Lyon College, the White River Water Carnival, the Batesville Speedway, the Ozark Foothills FilmFest, and Mark Martin Fan Appreciation Day. But we lack the kind of attractions that bring scores of visitors—zip lines, amusements parks, water attractions, professional sports, concert halls, and first-rate theaters. The Mark Martin Museum and Old Independence Regional Museum do attract visitors, and both are interesting and well-maintained, but neither one is an “all day” museum.
Batesville’s proximity to the White River gives it an opportunity that other cities and towns have embraced. Large cities like St. Louis and Pittsburgh and smaller ones like Padukah, Kentucky and Wheeling, W,Va. have developed their river fronts with attractions, restaurants, hotels, and outdoor theaters. In 2008 the Looney, Ricks, and Kiss architectural firm from Memphis was hired to discuss the potential for the White River riverfront area. The ideas that were identified included hiking/biking trails, kayak and canoeing, places to easily fish from the river, better access to the Sandy Beach area, and a setting for retreats, family gatherings, or as a wedding destination. Also included in the discussion were a hotel/conference center, condominiums, a ferris wheel, and a pedestrian bridge across the river.
Unfortunately, a weak economy and other local government priorities have held this project back.
Now, however, we have an opportunity that could be the catalyst to revive the riverfront project by obtaining and restoring the Mary Woods No. 2 riverboat. The historic stern wheeler that was moored in an inlet of the White River at Jacksonport State Park sank on January 30, 2010. The Mary Woods had operated since 1931 when it replaced the first Mary Woods.
The first boat had a wooden hull and the owner, Mr. Woods needed a more durable boat. The boat was transformed from coal-burning to steam in 1937 and from oil-burning steam power to diesel engines in 1949. The boat also underwent a three-year restoration completed in 2000 after the 1997 tornado did serious damage to the town of Jacksonport, the park’s 1872 County Courthouse, and the Mary Woods No.2. The boat had previously suffered from a frozen winter in 1984 that led to lines freezing and cracking. The boat was finally righted and restored again and continued to be the only stern wheeler on the White River. The 2010 salvage operation indicated that estimated costs to reconstruct the boat were prohibitive.
Batesville now has the opportunity to restore the Mary Woods No. 2 and bring the legendary boat up the river to land on the river and become a museum. This project will require a significant fund-raising campaign, support from local government, cooperation from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, and community engagement. The museum has the potential to become a tourist attraction where visitors can stand in the pilot house and imagine themselves piloting a riverboat. The museum will also give local students a hands-on experience of life on the White River.
As we begin to develop the river front with the Mary Woods No. 2 as the anchor, more visitors will head our way and discover more things to do, more places to eat, more places to shop, more events to attend, and a proud, healthy, and inviting community.