Indiana Historic Site With River Boat And Grain Mill Needs $7.6 Million Repairs – WISH-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana Weather forecast

METAMORA, Ind. (WISH) – A horse-drawn riverboat in Metamora stopped operating two years ago due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

A third year out of commission seems likely. Last week, the boat was taken out of the water for inspection and repair at the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site.

On Wednesday, the Ben Franklin III sat in a parking lot. The boat was broken in three places.

Cat Campbell is a longtime resident of Metamora Township, Franklin County, home to approximately 975 residents. It is approximately a 75 minute drive from downtown Indianapolis.

Campbell summed up his concerns about the future of the historic site to I-Team 8: “It’s something that’s unique to Metamora, and it’s part of our history. It’s not a gimmick. It’s what we were built on, and to take it away is almost to cut our hearts out in a lot of ways.

On a rainy April 11, a giant crane lifted the Ben Franklin III from the canal so the 33-year-old boat could undergo its first inspection in three years. Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites operates the canal site, which also includes a grain mill. State museum operators say the boat gained 14,000 in water weight through cracks in the fiberglass hull.

Another longtime resident of Metamora Township is Steve Collier. He is an ardent defender of the region’s history. Collier accompanied I-Team 8 to view the boat in the parking lot. The boat was not in very good condition: cracks in the fiberglass, peeling paint, warped boards, foam growing where it shouldn’t. In the week since the boat was taken out of the water, the bow has almost separated from the boat.

Collier says the boat’s condition is only the tip of the tide at the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site. He says when the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites took over the Metamora site a few years ago, the problems started.

“We think they’re trying…I think they’re headed towards dumping Metamora,” Collier said.

A letter from the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites to I-Team 8 estimated the cost of repairs to the Metamora site at $7.6 million. This includes $1 million to repair or replace the boat, $4 million to repair the canal aqueduct, $1.4 million to repair a lock, and $1.2 million to replace the water wheel and perform additional repairs around the mill.

Eric Todd of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites says he’s looking at ways to fund the repairs. “We are currently reviewing funding options. We had conversations with potential funders. The first step was to have a conversation with an engineering firm that had expertise in historic preservation to do a thorough study of the work to be done.

A team of horses pulls the Ben Franklin III across the canal and brings it back. The horses are kept in a pasture near the canal.

Last summer, 3,800 people took a ride on the boat; that’s down from 5,200 the previous summer. Both counts occurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, the fee to board the boat does not cover expenses.

Metamora is a tourist area, but most shops were closed earlier this week. The tourist season will begin when the weather improves in May.

Collier and his wife have been busy in their store building items to sell when the tourist spot gets more attention.

Campbell, one of the Colliers’ neighbors, fears the best days along the canal are over. “But when it comes to the things we have to offer and the historical things that happen in this city, the riverboat is probably the most important thing because that’s what the city was built on.”

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