The steamboat Arabia seems to have been an insignificant boat at first glance. It was built in 1853 in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, passed from owner to owner until September 5, 1856 when it sank near Parkville, Missouri, with a hull full of merchandise. For three years on the inland waterways, it appears this side wheeler was operating without a planned route and nothing could be further from the truth.
The significance of this steamboat only comes into focus when we step back and see the bigger picture. Steamboat lines, whether formal or not were becoming the norm and each time Arabia changed ownership, she became part of another line, serving a different purpose and showing us another facet of early Americana. The two hundred tons of merchandise on exhibit in the museum, now artifacts, were winter supplies for businessmen trying to make a living while serving a variety of consumers. Arabia is our stage and it is only through the eyes of those who owned, worked, consigned, and walked her decks and waved to her on the shore that brings an unbiased picture of daily life in the mid-century nineteenth century.