To call the effort to restore a one-of-a-kind piece of Rome river history, the Myra H, a 1932 pleasure boat, a labor of love might be one of the year's biggest understatements.
Volunteers led by historian Bob Harris, former assistant city manager Jim Dixon, and Pierce Harris descendant Jimmy Lovelace hope to complete the six-year-long project sometime this fall.
“There is nothing like this in Georgia,” Harris told Rome City Commissioners in early March. It’s just a pleasure boat, but it’s the only one left in Georgia.”
The Myra H, a 60-foot long by 16-foot wide riverboat, was built from scratch by Pierce Harris nine decades ago, in 1932. Harris named the boat for his daughter, Myra. It navigated the local rivers for about a decade before a flood floated the boat away from its dock on a farm up the Oostanaula River.
It sat on a hillside as a weekend retreat for the Harris family for nearly forty years before Harris was convinced to donate it to the community as a historical artifact from a bygone era.
The boat was first put behind the Major Ridge Home/Chieftains Museum. Still, after a few years, folks decided that the Myra H had nothing to do with the Cherokee, so the decision was made to move it to the Lock and Dam Park. Behind the Coosa Trading Post for years, it sat there, exposed to the elements to the point where the decking and roof were crumbling and rotting away.
In 2017, the decision was made to undertake a major restoration and find a permanent home for the boat.
Harris, with the help of a small brigade of volunteers and city officials, was able to connect with management at the old General Electric plant, who allowed the boat to be moved to a vacant storage building on the GE campus ‘for a few months’ to allow restoration work to proceed and keep the vessel protected from the weather. A few months turned into a few years as the volunteers worked when they could get a work crew together.
The entire exterior deck was replaced with oak decking, not pine. The paddlewheel on the stern was completely rebuilt. Rudders were rebuilt, and a cast iron stove inside the shell was lost at some point and has been replaced.
Volunteers sanded and sanded and sanded the boat. At some point, they realized they were dealing with lead-based paint and had to ensure proper masking to continue the work.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and a few months that had turned into a couple of years was stretched into close to four years. The good news is that the delay allowed some time for the crew to work with city officials and develop a specific plan before a permanent home was located adjacent to the ECO Center at Ridge Ferry Park. A funding plan for the raised concrete cradle and roof structure to protect the Myra H from the elements was developed and completed over the past winter. Some work, primarily on the interior, remains to be completed before the historic vessel becomes an important piece of the river education programming at the Rome Floyd ECO Center. Plans include the installation of a motor that will activate the paddle wheel.
“It is wonderful that they have taken such good care of our grandfather’s boat,” said Linda Studard, a granddaughter of Pierce Harris. “I know he would be so proud and have been right there supervising them.”
Her step-brother Jimmy Lovelace is among those who spent countless hours working on the Myra H virtually every time the work crews got together.
The crew hopes thousands of school children will be able to tour the boat beginning with the 23-24 school terms.