KANSAS CITY, Mo. — David Hawley beams with enthusiasm when he discusses the plans for a new museum for his vast collection of artifacts from the shipwreck of the Arabia Steamboat.
“It would be unlike anything that exists,” Hawley said.
The massive plans for a proposed $100 million museum of steamboat history, which would showcase the Arabia, may come as a surprise to people who have visited Hawley’s museum in the city’s River Market since 1991.
“We are beginning to outgrow it,” Hawley said. “We’d like to dig more boats. There’s not enough room here to do it. It’s probably a good time.”
Missouri lawmakers are debating a proposal to create a Steamboat Legacy Fund to finance the new museum, planned for Jefferson City. The bill calls for an additional $1 fee to be added to the $2 fee Missouri riverboat casinos already pay for each customer.
“So that legislation is now passing its way through the Senate and through the House, both are excited about it,” Hawley said. “Certainly the casinos are not. But many of the legislators are.“
Hawley, along with his brother and father, defied the odds when they unearthed the Arabia Steamboat, which went down on the Missouri River in 1856, from a cornfield in Wyandotte County in 1988.
Now, Hawley is dreaming up even bigger plans, and hopes to dig up even more boats, with the proposed larger steamboat museum.
“And I’d like to dig one boat from each decade of river travel,” Hawley said. “The Arabia would tell the story of the 1850’s. The Malta, the next boat we’d like to dig, would tell the story of the 1840’s.”
If the steamboat legislation fails, Hawley said he intends to work with other cities that have expressed interest in housing the Arabia collection.
He’s had meetings with representatives in various cities like St. Joseph and Marshall, Missouri, and even Pittsburgh, where the Arabia was originally built in the 1800’s.
“And if it can’t be here and the legislation doesn’t work out in Jeff City, then we’ll be calling Pittsburgh and saying ‘let’s cut a deal,'” he said.