The Inland Waterways Museum at 117 South Water Street is in the oldest building in downtown Paducah. As such it houses a treasure trove of artifacts that have accumulated over time. Last year, when Polly Brasher became the Executive Director of the center, she started looking around the storage area—with the goal to organize, clean, and reuse items. There is equipment—possibly from the building of Locks 52 and 53—air apparatuses, antique tools, and old catalogues piled high in the dimly lit storage space. “I found the chart book for the Delta Queen,” Polly marvels. “And I have been told there is a paddle wheel plank somewhere for the Delta Queen, but we have not found it yet. But most surprisingly, In this process I found a boat. It was dirty and full of junk,” Polly recalls. “And I fell in love with it.” It reminded her of the rescue boats she had seen in old photos of the 1937 flood. She was intrigued.
Polly showed the boat to John Crivello, a volunteer at the center and asked for his help to restore it. John recruited his friend, Rick Schipp, whom he knew had a lot of experience with woodworking.
They decided the first step would be to get the boat off the ground. “Rick starting picking up 2x4s and went right to work,” John recalls, “By the end of it we had a pretty nice rack with rollers to place the boat on.” They recruited men from the Coast Guard to help them lift the boat on to the rack. They then went to work to sand it down the old finish.
Both volunteers are retired from careers on the river. John worked as a crew dispatcher and then drug tester for a barge company. Today John volunteers in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Rick worked as an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The men worked for several months in the dimly lit storage area with just a few spotlights to help them see their work. They repainted the boat, attempting to keep it as close as possible to original colors they discovered.
“It’s a unique boat,” Rick notes. “It is put together with brass tacks and has a brass keel guard.” John had shown the boat to a friend at the Coast Guard, who immediately recognized it as a Peterborough boat. The friend had grown up in Maine and would go to Canada on fishing trips. He explained to John that those boats were very popular in Canada. This identification was solidified by pictures they found of old Peterborough boats and a stamped “P” that was displayed on one of the fittings for the oar.
Peterborough Canoe Company was its manufacturer. The company was based out of Peterborough, Ontario Canada. This added to the mystery of the boat. How did this Canadian fishing boat end up in Paducah? John theorizes that it could have been a boat belonging to the Petter family of the Henry A. Petter Supply Company. The Petters had owned the building at one point. “It was clearly highly valued by a family,” John shares. “The boat showed a lot of wear. It was not beat up, but clearly used. We would love to know the story.”
The boat project is finished but volunteers have continued to make improvements to the museum. During this interview, John and Rick showed the team a glass case they were restoring to display a gun that was found in storage. Polly recalls noting to John how the painting on the stair railing had chipped, and the next thing she knew, the rail had been sanded and painted. “These two never are looking for credit. They don’t make any noise,” Polly laughs. “They will just quietly work on something and then I’ll come back and see something complete!”
The team at Inland Waterways Museum is still working on figuring out where the boat came from and how it will be displayed. In the meantime, and true to the museum’s name, the staff and volunteers continue to sift through the discoveries within Paducah’s hidden treasure trove.
Polly Brasher and marketing coordinator, Caroline Veatch, are readying to make big changes to the Inland Waterways Museum. In celebration of their 20th anniversary, the center plans to announce a full renovation of their center including new immersive experience exhibitions, as well as rebranding and a new website. “Most of exhibits you currently see are 20 years old,” Polly says. “It’s time to redo them.” Polly is no stranger to design. Polly was a teacher for 25 years. She then worked at the Discovery Park of America for 16 years, during which she helped with the design and building of the park as first Founding Director and then Senior Director of Education and Guest Experience. “I had the unique perspective as a former teacher who had traveled with groups of 30-60 high school students to contribute to the design,” Polly says of her other “discovery” experience. The center is working with the Louisville design firm, SolidLight.
There is information on the Inland Waterways Museum website about how to become a member. “Becoming a member allows you to visit over 500 museums and science centers worldwide for free,” Caroline explains. “It is a great way to support our local museum while traveling to many other places.”