Visitors Guide to
George M. Verity River Museum
Victory Park
Keokuk, Iowa

Accessible Parking Accessible Picnic Facilities Accessible Iowa Historic Site Accessible Scenic Views Accessible Restrooms

In 1927 a Minneapolis-St. Paul group formed the Upper Mississippi Barge Line Company to seek extension of the Inland Waterways Service to the upper Mississippi River. The new company raised money and built a fleet of barges and towboats. Three towboats were built by the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works and were completed that same year. The three paddlewheel steamboats were the C.C. Webber, the S.S. Thorpe, and the John W. Weeks. The three vessels were designed by noted naval architect Thomas Rees Tarn and cost $175,000 each, a considerable amount in those days. The S.S. Thorpe was named after Samuel S. Thorpe, the first president of the Upper Mississippi Barge Line. The Thorpe’s original specifications were 130.1 feet long, 35.1 feet wide, and 5.1 feet deep. Overall length of the vessel was 162.5 feet. It was equipped with two water tube boilers and two tandem-compound steam engines that turned the 19-foot diameter paddlewheel at 19 RPM.

On August 15, 1927 the S.S. Thorpe departed from St. Louis with three barges carrying 1600 tons of coal. The S.S. Thorpe was under the command of Captain Oscar Olsen and had a crew of 28. This maiden voyage was a major turning point in American transportation history for it marked the reopening of the Upper Mississippi River to commercial traffic. The S.S. Thorpe passed Keokuk on August 18 and the local Daily Date City made the following report in an editorial entitled “Revival of River Traffic Predicted”: “The towboat S.S. Thorpe with three barges made its first visit to Keokuk Thursday of last week on its maiden voyage up the river. It has a small consignment of freight for Keokuk, the first time anything has been brought here by river for many a year…”

That same year the Federal government’s Inland Waterways Corp. (IWC), a government backed corporation that had high hopes of reinvigorating river traffic, was created and leased and later bought all of the Upper Mississippi Barge Line’s equipment. IWC’s Federal Barge Line began regular freight service between St. Louis and Minneapolis. But with no locks and dams and only a six-foot channel at best, service was irregular, especially during the summer and fall shipping seasons. Beginning in the 1930’s Congress began funding the U.S. Army Corp of Engineer’s 9-foot-channel project projects that resulted in today’s 29 locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River. The S.S. Thorpe’s maiden voyage marked the development of towboat and barge transportation on the Upper Mississippi River. Today’s towboats, powered by two 3,000 HP diesel engines, routinely handle 15 barges with a total capacity of 22,500 tons of cargo, the equivalent  of 225 freight cars or 1,125 18-wheelers.

For the next thirteen years the Thorpe worked for the Federal Barge Line on the Upper Mississippi River. With the advent of more powerful diesel powered towboats the S.S. Thorpe was sold to the American Rolling Mills Company, better known as Armco Steel, in 1940. The name of the vessel was changed to the George M. Verity, in honor of Armco Steel’s founder. Several modifications were made to the vessel before it began its service on the Ohio River. Four staterooms and a lounge were added to the new Texas deck to accommodate company visitors and in 1945 a new herringbone V-shaped paddlewheel replaced the old conventional paddlewheel. The hull was also widened by adding on fuel tank extensions. By the time the George M. Verity ended its service in 1960 it had made 1,018 trips between West Virginia and Ohio and delivered 10,108,000 tons of coal.

In 1960 the Keokuk River Museum Committee was formed after Harold Heule, an Ohio riverboat captain from Keokuk, notified the Lee County Historical Society that the George M. Verity was to be retired. The Committee acquired the Vessel for $1 from Armco with the provisions that it would be used as a museum and that the name would be unchanged. The 575-ton sternwheeler was beached at Victory Park along the Keokuk riverfront by digging a trench, constructing concrete foundations, floating the George M. Verity into the trench, and finally filling the trench back in. The George M. Verity was dedicated as a river museum on June 2, 1962. 1990 the National Park Service designated the George M. Verity a National Historic Landmark. This historic sternwheel steamboat provides a fascinating insight into river history by allowing visitors to view its original boiler, machinery, crew quarters and pilothouse.

A statue of General Samuel Ryan Curtis, who commanded the Union Army to victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge sits near the George M. Verity. It originally was located in the intersection of Third and Main Streets.

Visiting the George M. Verity River Museum
The museum is open Memorial Day through Labor Day
          9 am - 5 pm
Admission, children 7 & under free.

Location: The George M. Verity River Museum is located at Victory Park along the river, from Main Street (US-136) turn northeast on N. 2nd Street (at the Keosippi Mall), turn left on Blondeau Street and then turn left on N. Water Street down to the railroad tracks.

Learn more about the Keokuk area.

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