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Thompson Dredge

 

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Dredge Thompson

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 Mississippi River.  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 markets.  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 the task. 

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.

 Prairie du Chien offers a fitting location for the Thompson.  More than 100 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two Frenchmen with five other voyageurs entered the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Wisconsin River.  Father Marquette and Joliet laid eyes on what is now Prairie du Chien on June 17, 1673.  By 1685, another Frenchman – Nicolas Perrot – built trading posts or forts at various locations, one at the southern limits of Prairie du Chien.  River traffic was the only practical means of transportation for personal goods, and Prairie du Chien was strategically located for this purpose.  In 1823, the first steamboat to navigate the upper Mississippi River, named ‘Virginia,’ arrived on the Riverfront in Prairie du Chien.  With the arrival in 1857 of the first rail line connecting Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, Prairie du Chien soon became a transportation hub – where land, rail, and river transportation came together.