Riverboat to travel the streets of Vicksburg

Published 2:07 am Sunday, September 23, 2007

Historian Gordon Cotton doesn’t recall another time a riverboat has been spotted rolling down a Vicksburg street. It certainly isn’t something that happens every day.

After almost three months of being cleaned, sandblasted and painted at one Washington Street site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ retired flagship vessel will be on its way down the downtown street to its permanent site two blocks south.

The event is set for Tuesday.

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“Watching it cruise down the street will be just an awesome sight,” said Nellie Caldwell, chairman of the Riverfront Mural Committee. “People don’t realize how big it is. It’s a massive, big ’ole boat.”

Caldwell, whose brother James Morris of PROCON Inc. was contracted to berth and paint the boat, thought a parade should be planned to usher the MV Mississippi IV to its new home on Levee Street near Jackson Street. For safety reasons the 218-foot vessel will not have a full-fledged parade crowd for which Caldwell had hoped.

“It’s too much of a hazard,” said Frank Worley, acting chief of public affairs for the Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District.

The vessel will be decorated with flags, bunting and a banner that people can see from afar as it makes its trek south. It is moving from its temporary location at the old Government Fleet home on North Washington Street across from the Klondyke to Levee Street, where it will be the centerpiece of a planned Corps of Engineers Interpretive Center.

The vessel, once owned by the Memphis District, will be placed on rails with individually powered wheels that will allow it to make its stroll, Worley said.

Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon of the Vicksburg Police Department said he expects streets in the area to be closed while the vessel is moving, which is planned to begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

He said while he can’t keep people from going out to see the vessel, he and other officers will restrict areas to make sure everyone is safe.

“It’s already a busy time of the morning — and people will be rerouted,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea for people to watch it on TV.”

While it won’t be shown live, the city’s government access channel, TV-23, will be onsite to record the vessel’s move. The footage will be combined with what has been shot through the entire process and shown weeks later.

“We’re putting together a post-event video,” said TV-23 station manager Barry Graham. “It will be a nice production after.”

Worley said once the motor vessel is staged at the museum site, the exterior will continue to be chipped and painted. Some work to the interior will also be done, but he said no plans have been announced.

After completion of the museum, which is expected in the next two to three years, the vessel will be part of the exhibit. Plans are to have the Fairground Street Bridge refurbished and turned into a pedestrian walkway that leads to an observation deck.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who has pushed for Levee Street to become home to tourist attractions, such as the multimillion-dollar Art Park at Catfish Row, floodwall murals and the proposed Vicksburg Transportation Museum, said the vessel will add a touch that visitors to Vicksburg won’t be able to forget.

“It’s going to be a pretty dramatic streetscape. I think it’s going to become a symbol, like the St. Louis Arch,” he said. “It will be so remarkable at the street level and will be another image of Vicksburg.”

Caldwell and Leyens both said the vessel will be a token of pride for the retired Corps of Engineers community.

“The history of that boat is so great,” Caldwell said.

She said, parade or no parade, the MV Mississippi’s homecoming should be a celebration.

“Since we can’t have a parade, we can at least watch it come into place,” she said. “It will be very neat to see it.”

The City of Vicksburg, during the administration of former Mayor Joe Loviza, purchased the vessel in 1995 for $1 with plans to make it a floating display. A change in plans caused the vessel to sit and decay for nearly 10 years before the title was transferred back to the corps.

Since 2006, officials have lobbied in Washington, D.C., for federal funds to help see the museum through. The project will cost $4.89 million to complete.

Congress has been making periodic allocations for the design and construction of the interpretive center, which will tell the story of the corps’ efforts to manage the Mississippi River for commercial navigation and flood control.