- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - The fate of the remaining metal pieces taken from the steamboat Sprague, which was destroyed by fire in 1974, is in the hands of Vicksburg officials.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is considering whether to display them or declare some of items surplus and sell them as scrap.

The boat’s salvaged metal parts are stored at the city water department warehouse and the old government fleet yard, which is owned by the Warren County Port Commission.

City building maintenance superintendent Sammie Rainey tells The Vicksburg Post (http://bit.ly/Mp1QHH ) that the boat’s rudder, boiler and engine parts, and part of the railing from its paddlewheel are at the water department’s warehouse.

Port officials don’t know what parts of the Sprague are stored at the fleet yard.

Port officials want to lease a portion of the fleet yard to a local businessman. That would require removing the metal parts of the Sprague that are stored there. Port executive director Wayne Mansfield said the locating of a business at the site was “making a piece of property active again.”

The city board initially voted to declare the items kept on the fleet yard surplus and to advertise them for sale. But Alderman Michael Mayfield asked they wait to find a way to save the remaining equipment and put it on display.

“We want to try and see if we can go a different avenue,” Mayfield said. “I want to see if there’s some way we can archive it, either at the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lower Mississippi) museum, or at the Old Depot.”

The Sprague was a big attraction on Vicksburg’s City Front from the time the city acquired the vessel from Standard Oil Co. in the late 1940s until it was hobbled by a raging fire in 1974.

Over the years the Sprague was home to a boating club, museum and steamboat photo display and a theater.

All that came to an end when fire broke out on the night of April 15, 1974. Nearly all the huge steam-powered towboat’s wooden superstructure was destroyed. The cause of the fire was never determined.

Not only was much of the largest steam towboat ever built destroyed, but also a huge collection of photographs and boat models in a riverboat museum and most of the collection of period costumes used by the Dixie Showboat Players to put on the melodrama “Gold In The Hills” in Vicksburg’s budding tourism industry.

The hull of the Sprague was completed in 1901 at the Iowa Iron Works in Dubuque. The cabins were completed by the middle of 1902, and the nearly complete boat was moved to St. Louis, where the 40-foot propulsion wheel was attached. The move was necessary because the locks on the Upper Mississippi River were not large enough to accommodate the full 318-foot length of the boat known as “Big Mama.”

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, http://www.vicksburgpost.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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