Historic Buildings in Kansas City - The Arabia

Real Estate Agent with Chartwell Kansas City Realty SP00229578 2007027091

Historic Buildings in Kansas City - The building itself is not historic yet it holds some of the most historically significant artifacts from its' time. The Arabia Museum in Kansas City is all about a steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1856. The Arabia was carrying everything needed to build the town of Logan Nebraska but without supplies, Logan was not built and the settlers instead moved to Sioux City Iowa.Arabian Museum in Kansas City Missouri

In the 1850's, it took about 6 days to travel from St. Louis Mo to St. Joseph MO by steamship. The ship burned ~ 32 cords of wood every 24 hours. Wood was cut from the banks of the Missouri River. Cutting the trees caused erosion. Erosion caused trees to slip into the river. Going downstream was not too bad but coming upstream, the trees that had fallen into the river lay just beneath the surface waiting to torpedo unsuspecting boats.

The Arabia left St. Louis with more than 200 tons of cargo. She passed by Kansas City and continued north towards St. Joseph. All was well until she hit one of those hidden trees. Survivors describe hearing a loud sound and feeling the jolt of the ship coming to a halt. As the ship went down, people ran upstairs to the second deck carrying their children along with them. The Arabia sank before the sun went down that hot August day. One small boat made many trips back and forth carrying the passengers to shore. 

Arabian Steamboat All souls survived except for a donkey belonging to a carpenter. The carpenter tethered the donkey to the ship and was unable to cut the rope to free the donkey as the ship was sinking.

The Missouri River of the 1800's was a shallow, wide river that changed her course often. By this I mean that the river physically altered her location - sometimes by a few feet - sometimes by miles. The Army Corps of Engineers eventually dug a deeper channel to contain the river and keep it from moving - but not in time to save the Arabia.

The Arabia sank with enough supplies to stock an entire town - 5,000 pairs of leather boots, thousands of pieces of china, hats, dolls, clothing, nails, scales, axes, adzes, needles and thread, silk, beads, pots, pans, eyeglasses, buttons, shoes, medicine, guns, food, jewelry and 400 barrels of Kentucky Bourbon - the bourbon was never found.


map of Missouri River An aerial map of the Missouri River after the Army Corps of Engineers deepened and narrowed her banks. Note the straight gray shadow lines to the left of her present course - the lines indicate where the river moved back and forth from time to time.

After the Arabia sank, the Missouri River moved several times. The Arabia ended up buried in a cornfield a few miles inland from where the river is now. The cornfield belonged to Jerry Mackey. Jerry grew up hearing stories from his parents and grandparents about the sinking of the Arabia.

More than 100 years after the Arabia sank, the Hawley's heard the story. Greg, David and Bob were enthralled and spent years researching and preparing to unearth the Arabia. Jerry Mackey allowed them access to his land and the Hawleys were able to locate and excavate the Arabia.

Although the Arabia sank in only a few feet of water, the silt washed out from under her as she sank so she ended up buried 45 feet below the surface. Arabia Steamboat Wheel

Excavating the Arabia was not an easy task. Imagine a 171 foot ship buried 45 deep. Now imagine that as the backhoes were digging they hit water. Yep, the Arabia was covered by an underground lake.

The good thing was that the water preserved the ship and barrels containing the dishes and other supplies. The bad news was that the water had to be pumped out in order to get to the ship. Something like 12,000 gallons per minute were pumped out before the Hawleys could get to the Arabia.

The Hawleys filled up their commercial freezers, restaurant freezers and friends freezers with the Arabia's treasures until a building could be arranged to house the large collection. Part of the ship is within the building today. The wood had to be kept wet or it would disintegrate in the air. A humongous shower was built for the Arabia's stern and the ship was bathed in Ethylene Glycol for 12 hours every day for 3 years.

Arabia hull portion

The Ethylene Glycol is kind of waxy and keeps the wood from the Arabia from drying out. To the left is part of the hull; above is the wheel of the side paddle steamboat Arabia.

Peggy Gerber and Bob Hawley


Bob Hawley Arabia treasure finder with Peggy Gerber





Arabia excavation site north of Kansas City Our tour guide at the Arabia Museum in Kansas City was Emily - a law student at UMKC. Emily is standing in front of a photo showing the Arabia excavation site from 1988.

Arabia anchor











Photograph above is the anchor from the Arabia. To the left of the anchor is the ship's wheel.

Arabia artifacts On your right is a small portion of the goods salvaged from the Arabia steamboat wreck. Pots, pans, dishes, china, glassware. Below are leather shoes and whips. They are kept in a nitrogen filled glass container for preservation.

Arabia cargo - shoes and whips









Arabia Museum in Kansas City Missouri The Kentucky Bourbon was never found (to our knowledge) but the Arabia Museum in Kansas City Missouri holds the largest collection of frontier supplies in the world. Wedgewood, Cypress and Fryer china, flintlock rifles, silk from China, Beaver hats, beads from Italy and everything a pioneer family would need to make their new home in the western frontier of the 1800's.

The Arabia Museum is open

Monday - Saturday 10am - 5:30pm

Sunday Noon - 5pm

Last tour begins 1and 1/2 hour prior to closing.

Tickets are $14.50 ♦ 13.50 for seniors

Children 4-14 $5.50 ♦ Under 3 - FREE

Group and school rates available www.1856.com

Arabia Steamboat Museum ♦ 400 Grand Blvd ♦ Kansas City MO 64106 - A site to see in Kansas City! 

Located in the River Market - Kansas City

Arabia - Fairbanks scale Arabia guns tools chains Arabia hats boots bottles 


Copyright © 2010 Maria Morton All Rights Reserved *Historic Buildings in Kansas City - The Arabia*

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Tony & Darcy Cannon
Aubrey and Associates Realty - Layton, UT
The C Team

Maria, what a great post!  Very informative and interesting!  It sounds like a great treasure hunt and museum!

Jun 24, 2010 08:12 PM #1
The Jeff Rickert Team
RE/MAX Property Specialists - Pocono Lake, PA
Poconos - RSPS - The Jeff Rickert Team

Thanks for the post.

We have a few barns and farms that are historical in our area.

Jun 25, 2010 12:01 AM #2
Maria Morton
Chartwell Kansas City Realty - Kansas City, MO
Kansas City Real Estate 816-560-3758

It is Tony!

Jeff and Heather, I'll have to check out your posts on barns and farms.

Jun 25, 2010 03:54 AM #3
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Kansas City Real Estate 816-560-3758
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