NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. - A piece of sternwheel and Marietta history was apparently lost this weekend as the showboat Becky Thatcher sank at its mooring on Neville Island in the Ohio River, just north of Pittsburgh, Pa.
"It's gone - not salvageable, a total loss. It's the end of the chapter for the Becky," owner Jeff Levin said Sunday.
Levin said the 83-year-old sternwheeler sank sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning, and the top two decks had collapsed onto the boat's main deck.
Photos courtesy of Johanna Owen King and Thomas Kane
The 83-year-old showboat Becky Thatcher sank at her mooring on Neville Island in the Ohio River north of Pittsburgh late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
"We don't know what happened - a passing barge could have hit it," Levin said. "But we won't know if it was hit until we get the hull out of the water. If it looks like it was rammed the (U.S.) Coast Guard will investigate.
"But we may never know," he added. "It's pretty devastating - we never envisioned this."
On Sunday, Levin's immediate concern was getting the Becky out of the 10 feet of water in which she sank before the boat washed downstream and caused more damage.
"I need to get a wrecking crew in there as soon as possible and cut the boat into scrap, then I'll sell whatever I can to try and recoup some of the cost," he said. "But it has to be demolished quickly."
In October, the Becky Thatcher was towed from Marietta to Neville Island. The showboat had become a local landmark in the Pioneer City where it had been moored on the Muskingum River since 1975. The boat was initially a popular local dinner theater, then served as a restaurant for several years.
Levin bought the Becky in 2005 and it continued operating as a restaurant for a short time. The eatery closed in 2006 and for the next three years the former showboat sat vacant at its mooring along a city-owned section of riverbank on the Muskingum River.
Marietta City Council approved eviction proceedings in 2009 to have the boat removed. City officials said there had been no economic activity generated aboard the sternwheeler for more than two years, and no rent was being paid on the property where the boat was moored.
Levin had the Becky towed to the Pittsburgh area in hopes of restoring the boat and leasing it for a restaurant or other business venture.
But those hopes were dashed after the boat sank over the weekend.
Thomas Kane has a birds-eye view Neville Island from his home in Robinson Township. He and Marietta-area friend Johanna Owen King had heard that the Becky had sunk and drove to the island to take a closer look.
"We could see it from a distance," Kane said. "It looked like it was half underwater, lying on its side. I'm no engineer, but it doesn't look too good for the boat or its owner."
"It was really sad to see her lying there, I'm glad it didn't sink here," King said. "I had my wedding rehearsal dinner on the Becky back in 1988 - my parents used to take me there a lot."
Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen said the sinking was sad news, especially for the local community that had been home to the showboat for 34 years.
"I hate that it has happened," he said. "There are so few of the genuine old-time riverboats left. It's another piece of history gone - they don't build vessels like that anymore."
Mullen said concern for liability was a major part of the city's rationale for having the Becky Thatcher moved last fall.
"There were environmental and safety concerns if the boat sank while attached to city property," he said. "We wanted (Levin) to do something with the boat or to remove it from the city's property."
Mullen said he had hoped someone in the local community would make use of the showboat.
"Many people were looking at it, but in this unstable economy it would have been very difficult to take on such a project," he said. "Still, we did everything we could to try and keep it here."
Levin said he only carried liability insurance on the vessel, and hoped he could possibly recoup some of his investment by selling the metal hull and other parts for salvage.