Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Museum Dreams- NLR TIMES

Historic Vessels Attract Tourist Dollars
NLR Times July 28, 2005

There can’t be too many senior citizens in the area who attract more attention on a day-to-day basis than the one that stands smack in the middle of North Little Rock’s rejuvenating waterfront.

The 61-year-old U.S.S. Razorback submarine, commissioned in 1944 and a veteran of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as the Cold War, now graces that waterfront as the centerpiece of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum (AIMM), where she is attracting 250 visitors every day that she’s open for tours.

Since arriving last year after a 6,500-mile journey from Turkey, the submarine has proven a magnet for many veterans and visitors.

And North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays plans for it to become even more of a tourist attraction as the Maritime Museum evolves from its current state of a building, an old towboat and a few barges on the river to a full-fledged museum complex.

Of course, there’s the matter of the proposed $15 million price tag…but the entire museum is still very much in the conceptual stage, and its final form (not to mention cost) has not settled yet.

Still, much progress has been made this past year to shape this attraction on the riverfront, near the Interstate 30 bridge and the boat ramp. The Razorback tied up alongside the Patriot towboat—a former river vessel that most recently was Gator’s Barge and Grill—which is being converted for use by the museum; several city-owned barges will also serve in various capacities, from docking access to party facilities. And the former lodge of the Local 35 of the International Association of Firefighters currently holds many of the museum’s display items.

The arrival of the submarine has meant considerable work not only for the people who reconditioned the barges and made the Razorback ready for the public—both city crews and a large force of volunteers, many of them retired submariners and even some former razorback crewman—but also for the city’s History Commission.

Charged with cataloging the incredible array of American and Turkish military paraphernalia removed from the vessel, City Historian Sandra Taylor Smith filled much of the storage space in the commission’s headquarters at 506 Main St. with boxes of documents and artifacts.

In order to hasten the day a new museum can actually be constructed, the city has created a Maritime Museum nonprofit that has been soliciting donations. Nearly $1 million had been raised earlier this year, with donations from more than 1,000 people—not counting the unknown number of folks who’ve dropped money into the donation box at the museum itself.

Still the museum remains very much a project tied to the city, with North Little Rock officials holding most of the seats on the nonprofit’s board. And Mayor Pat Hays is still very much the project’s most enthusiastic cheerleader.

Later this year, the retired military tugboat U.S.S. Hoga, which helped fight fires and rescue sailors during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is expected to arrive and join the “North Little Rock Navy.”

The city has also started a weblog, or “blog,” for the Maritime Museum, so people who are interested can post their observations or memories about the vessels there. This blog is viewable at


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