MARIETTA - Shanty boats, a common sight during the first half of the 20th century, have all but disappeared from the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. But visitors to Marietta's Campus Martius and Ohio River Museums will soon have a chance to tour one of the vessels, thanks to a Gallipolis family and the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen.
The single-room shanty boats were used as "floating homes" by many people who couldn't afford land-based housing, especially during the 1920s and 30s.
Jeff Spear, president of the local Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, said the Schoonover family of Gallipolis agreed a year ago to donate the shanty boat, probably built between 1910 and the early 1920s, to the sons and daughters group. The Schoonovers also donated many of the boat's furnishings.
Photo courtesy of Jean Yost
Historian Bill Reynolds with the Ohio River Museum checks out the early 1900s-era shanty boat that arrived on the museum grounds last week. The boat is to undergo some repairs and will become part of the museum’s regular exhibits by next spring.
"This boat was being used by the family for years as a camp along the Muskingum near Beverly," he said, noting the shanty boat had reportedly washed up onto land during record flooding in 1936.
The Schoonovers acquired boat in 1963 when they purchased the property on which the grounded vessel was sitting.
Spear said the boat was well-constructed.
"It was built by someone who really knew what they were doing," he said. "But now the roof needs replaced and we removed the flooring which will have to be re-installed. The windows also need some work and the boat should be painted."
The shanty boat was transported from Beverly to the Ohio River Museum last week where it currently sits on a trailer, waiting to be permanently anchored to a concrete pad on the museum grounds.
"It will be located near the parking lot area, in front of Building 3 at the museum," Spear said. "I think it will be a unique, fun, hands-on type of exhibit that kids will be able to enjoy. And we want it to be a very interactive exhibit."
Jean Yost, a member of the local Friends of the Museums' board of directors, said as far as anyone knows, the Schoonover shanty boat is the last of its kind that plied the area waterways.
"People who didn't own land or couldn't afford to pay taxes on land often lived on these boats, moving from one place to another and from job to job," he said. "At one time there were hundreds of shanty boats along the area rivers."
Spear noted there were so many of the boats that the city of Marietta passed an ordinance banning shanty boats from being moored within the city limits.
"By and large, the people who lived on these boats were poor families who had no other options," he said. "It was a very different kind of life."
Shanty boats had no engines or other forms of locomotion. Spear said the owners would generally just float downriver with the current, but occasionally a sympathetic steamboat captain might tow a shanty boat upriver.