The Dredge William A. Thompson arrived in
Prairie du Chien on June 13, 2012, and is currently moored in
the backwaters of the Mississippi near the Prairie du Chien
Marina. Boaters and
passersby – as well as those who greeted the vessel upon its
arrival – have probably noticed its imposing size and
distinctive shape: 267 feet long with the cutterhead projecting
from the bow and two spud towers rising from the stern.
Community Development Alternatives of Prairie du Chien
acquired the Dredge in the spring of 2012 from the Corps of
Engineers, which desired to find a community willing to receive
the vessel and preserve its rich history of service on the Upper
CDA is currently developing plans to convert the Dredge into a
Museum of River Transportation.
The Dredge William A. Thompson is a wrought iron hull, self-propelled, cutterhead suction dredge fabricated in 1936 by the Dravo Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), St. Paul District. The largest and only remaining example of its type used by the Corps, the Thompson was generally considered the best of the fleet and served as a basis for future design of large cutterhead dredges. The Thompson holds a distinguished place in the evolution of marine dredge craft. The Thompson is the most original of two cutterhead vessels built for the Corps that incorporated self-propulsion via diesel and electric engine systems, on-board crew quarters, and dredge mechanism on a scale not achieved since (McCroskey 5).
The Dredge will tell the story of its role in transforming the
Upper Mississippi River into a transportation artery, opening
the doors for Midwest agribusiness to national and world
The museum itself will be a unique integration of political,
social, and environmental history, featuring one of the few and
best-preserved dredge artifacts in the United States. No other
restored dredge can claim the Thompson’s singular place at the
intersection of two historical movements: the effort to
establish a nine-foot channel on the Upper Mississippi to expand
national commerce beyond the rail system; and the technological
advancements necessary to develop the machinery to accomplish
Once the Dredge is permanently set in its final location, it is envisioned that an access structure would be constructed to provide the public access to the main deck and upper decks. Upon boarding the Thompson, visitors will be greeted by a fully-preserved cutter suction dredge. The four interpretive strategies as determined by a team of academic scholars – Upstairs/ Downstairs (social theme), The Machine, The National Story, and The River – will be accomplished in separate sections of the vessel that comprise different components of the overall Museum tour.