Parts of the Sprague might be sold

Published 11:36 am Monday, February 24, 2014

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Display it or scrap it.
The fate of the remaining metal pieces taken from the steamboat Sprague, which was destroyed by fire in 1974, lies in the hands of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which is considering whether to display them or declare some of the salvaged items surplus and sell them as scrap.
The boat’s salvaged metal parts are stored at two locations, the city water department warehouse behind the Klondyke on North Washington Street, and the old government fleet yard, which is owned by the Warren County Port Commission and located on the west side of North Washington along the Yazoo Diversion Canal just north of the Klondyke.
City and port officials do not know what parts of the Sprague are stored at the fleet yard, but city building maintenance superintendent Sammie Rainey said the boat’s rudder, boiler and engine parts, and part of the railing from its paddlewheel are at the water department’s warehouse.
The board learned Friday that a portion of the fleet yard is being considered by a local businessman as the potential site for a business, which would require removing the metal parts of the Sprague that are stored there.
The Port Commission on Jan. 21 voted to lease the property to local businessman Harold May to convert to a loading facility. The vote was contingent on May being able to finance the development.
May sought a one-year lease with 19 single-year options. Port executive director Wayne Mansfield supported the idea, saying the business was “making a piece of property active again.”
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Friday initally voted to declare the items kept on the fleet yard surplus and authorized City Clerk Walter Osborne to advertise for bids for the material, but North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said Friday afternoon he wanted 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.”
Rainey said at one time plans had been discussed to move the parts to the Old Depot on Levee Street.
Old Depot Museum director Lamar Roberts said he discussed moving the parts with former mayor Paul Winfield last spring, but there were no follow-up discussions.
“The plan was to put them on the side of the depot in front of the building’s parking lot, where people would see them when they arrived or as they passed the depot,” he said.
A stern-wheeler, the Sprague was launched in 1901 in Dubuque, Iowa, and completed in 1902. It went into service in 1903 hauling coal for a group of small companies known as the Combine, taking on coal loads at Louisville, Ky., or Cairo, Ill., and moving down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
It was sold to Standard Oil Co. in 1925, and used to tow crude oil from the company’s oil field at Grand Lake, Ark., to its refinery in Baton Rouge, La. It later towed refined products from Baton Rouge to Memphis, Tenn.
The Sprague was decommissioned in 1946, and bought by a committee of Vicksburg residents for $1. She was brought to Vicksburg, where she was a tourist attraction and the headquarters for the Vicksburg Little Theatre, and home to the Vicksburg Yacht Club until fire destroyed it in 1974.
In 1972, the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources set aside $1.15 million to repair and renovate the Sprague, but the money was never spent on the boat, and later was used to renovate the Vicksburg Auditorium.
A year after the fire, local architect Skippy Tuminello said it would take about $2.8 million to rebuild the Sprague, and in the late 70s city officials decided it wasn’t feasible to rebuild the Sprague.
Reporters Danny Barrett Jr. and Josh Edwards contributed to this story.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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