River History Museum opening

Vevay celebrates opening of new
museum featuring model steamboats

Rare collection a must-see for river historians

By Don Ward

VEVAY, Ind. (May 2004) – Several years of work, planning and organization culminated in the April 3 opening of the Life on the Ohio River History Museum in Vevay, Ind.
Nearly 200 people gathered on the lawn of the Historical Society, where in a building next door the new exhibit houses an impressive display of model riverboats, photographs, historical documents and many other items relating to Switzerland County’s long, rich river heritage.

Museum opening

Photo by Don Ward

Bryan Borne and his grandmother,
Luana Gaebel view the model
steamboats made by their relative,
the late Harold Patterson.

"It was a great day and we had an excellent turnout for what has been a true community project,” said Martha Bladen, historical society president who helped spearhead the project and plan the opening day ceremonies.
The museum is housed in a former parsonage for the Presbyterian Church that has served the historical society since 1970. In recent years, the building was used as a dentist office. Officials began planning the museum in 2002 when the building became available after the dentist moved across town.
The museum features a rare and high quality collection of artifacts, including 12 model steamboats made by the late Harold Patterson. Patterson was an actor on the Bryant Showboats in the 1920s and was a Florence, Ind., resident. The models are true folk art, created from everyday materials.
The steamboats were donated by Patterson’s granddaughter, Luana Gaebel of Cleves, Ohio. Once obtained, historical society member Rob Stepleton cleaned and repaired the models in preparation for their display in the museum. Stepleton is a skilled hobbyist specializing in model railroading.
In addition to the steamboat collection, the museum houses a pilotwheel from the Robert T. Graham ferryboat, a large model of the City of Louisville steamboat and a patent model for steering improvement patented in 1866 by Frank Dupraz Sr., S.M. Dupont and J. Dickason. The collection also includes a pilothouse chair, cork night light, acorns from the Queen City, Duffy and Island Queen, a pressure gauge from the Delta Queen, brass lamp from the City of Louisville, flatboat bilge pump, spike pole, ledgers, passenger registers and numerous photos and documents.
Many organizations, businesses and individuals contributed to the project. The Paul Ogle Foundation contributed $102,000 to pay off the balance on the land contract to purchase the building, with $5,000 going toward display cases. The Switzerland County Council contributed $15,900 for new rain gutters and heating and air conditioning systems for both buildings.
The Community Foun-dation of Switzerland County contributed $1,000 toward carpet; the United Way Fund of Switzerland County contributed $6,000 toward display cases.
Switzerland County Tourism contributed $14,500 for carpet and murals of the Town of Vevay, plus $7,500 for use as needed.
Other contributors included the Kiwanis Club, Key Club and Switzerland County School Corp.
Bladen provided grant writing; historical society vice president Ginny Reeves and member Danny Back also contributed their ideas and time. Artist Steve Bickis of Jefferson County, Ind., created the river course maps, signs and themed murals of the flatboat and keelboat, the ferry, the steamboat and ferry landing.
Other volunteers who helped with the museum include Barbara Huffman, Janet Hendricks, Donna Cole, Sarah Headen, Peggy Eckerty, Rob and Melodee Stepleton, Jack Remington, Ruth Osborn, Ken and Joyce Benbow, Roy Lee Patterson, Dale Patterson and Helen Parks.

• The museum is open daily from noon to 4 p.m. It is located at 208 E. Market St. Admission is $3 to each building or $5 for both buildings. For information, call (812) 427-3308.

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