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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Putting a boat in Levee Park

January 10, 2019
The Pearson decorated for Steamboat Days in 1957, would later get gingerbread and become the Wilkie.

By mid-July Winona will have an authentic reproduction of a small river packet at Levee Park, according to Dr. Lewis Younger, president of the Winona Historical Society.

The society’s board of directors awarded a $4,200 contract to P. Earl Schwab Tuesday to remodel the Pearson from a work boat into a small packet boat according to plans furnished by the Dubuque Boat & Boiler Co., Dubuque, Iowa.

Remodeling will include construction of a 21-by-60-foot, cabin on the second deck, a 15-foot promenade deck forward of this cabin, raising the pilot house to the cabin roof and raising the smoke stacks and equipping them with spark arrestors.

Major construction is expected to be completed by Steamboat Days, but the job will be far from finished.

Later development will include installation of fancy work in authentic steamboat Gothic architecture as more funds become available.

All machinery on the boiler deck will be left intact and will be refurbished.

The Pearson was purchased by the historical society last year for $2,500 and hauled out of the river and placed on a stone foundation in its present position at an additional cost of $3,000.

The sternwheeler was built in Rock Island, Ill., in 1898 but was extensively rebuilt in 1937. Weighing 62 tons when loaded with dredging equipment it is 96 feet long and about 24 feet wide. Its hull is fir and the keel is white oak. It has two coal-fired steam boilers, draws three feet of water and, until 1954, was used for dredging by Moline Consumers Co., Moline, Ill., who sold and delivered the boat to the historical society.

When remodeling is complete the society will turn the steamer into a “Museum of Upper Mississippi River Lore.” It will contain models of old steamboats, pictures of boats and river personalities from the area, log books, navigation charts and pieces of equipment from old boats, such as lights, bells, whistles, steering wheels and navigational aids.

One of the latter will be a barometer from the Steamer Frontenac which went out of service in 1006. The barometer was manufactured at Alma about 1890, Younger said.

To complete the project an additional $10,000 is needed, Younger said. All funds have been donated by Winona businessmen and individuals and no public funds have been used, he said.

“Several people have commented that it is wrong to change the Pearson into a packet,” the doctor said, “but during the heyday of steamboating on the Mississippi, many work boats were converted into packets and vice versa.”

“When completed the boat should be quite a tourist attraction,” Younger said

Editor’s note: The reconstructed Pearson was rechristened the Julius C. Wilkie and was dedicated Aug. 30, 1959.

The boat was renamed in honor of Julius C. Wilkie who came to Winona in the 1890s as a machinist for the North Western Railway. During World War I, the father opened Wilkie’s Garage & Machine Works at 208 W. Third St., and continued this business until sometime after 1925 when he moved to Minneapolis. He had no connection to the river or steamboats beyond his residence in Winona. However, his sons, Lelghton A. Wilkie, Santa Barbara, who delivered the major address at the dedication program; Robert J. Wilkie, Minneapolis, and James A. Wilkie, Hopkins, Minn, contributed $22,275 to the project.

The “authentic reproduction” remained a centerpiece of Levee Park until 1981 when it was destroyed by fire. Backed by a $200,000 donation from the Wilkie family, a concrete-hulled replica of the reproduction was built in Levee Park at the foot of Main Street and dedicated in 1983. The boat-shaped building was demolished in July 2008 after the structure deteriorated past the point of reclamation.

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