Sultana Disaster Museum receives $1 million federal grant; Southwest Trail gets $2 million

by George Jared ([email protected]) 2,427 views 

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River about 7 miles from Memphis.

For years, an effort has been underway to build a museum to commemorate the sinking of the Sultana, a Civil War steamboat that sank April 27, 1865, in the choppy waters of the Mississippi River near the city of Marion. An estimated 1,200 passengers died making it the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

The Sultana Disaster Museum on Tuesday (July 19) received a $1 million grant from the American Rescue Plan. Garland and Saline counties each received $1 million grants from the ARP to develop trail systems.

For the museum to receive the grant, locals had to put up a $250,000 match. The project will create 90 jobs and generate $200,000 in private investments.

“President Biden knows that the travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation sector is a critical driver for our nation’s economy,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said. “These EDA investments will create new tourism destinations across the state of Arkansas, attracting new visitors to the state and providing opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive.”

The boat still rests below a soybean field in the county. It carried Union soldiers that had been captured during the war. It’s estimated that 1,800 people were on the boat more than six times the suggested number.

It’s believed the boilers exploded due to the weight of the passengers. The incident was quickly forgotten and to this day is known by very few.

Last year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson dedicated $750,000 towards building the museum. It’s estimated it will cost $7.5 million to complete the project.

“A deep and rich history, natural beauty from the flats of the Delta to the Ozarks, and a wide variety of hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation options for adventurers of all skill levels are some of the reasons we call Arkansas the Natural State,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “This investment will enhance our efforts to preserve Arkansas’s story and conserve our natural resources for Arkansans, and further strengthen our tourism industry, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who travel here from other places every year.”

Garland County will use its $1 million grant to construct the Garland County portion of the Southwest Trail, a multi-county bicycle and pedestrian trail. The trail will connect Little Rock to Hot Springs in an effort to attract tourists and boost outdoor recreation in the region. The project will be matched with $250,000 in local funds.

Saline County will receive a $1 million grant to restore the historic Old River Bridge over the Saline River as part of the Southwest Trail, attracting tourists and boosting outdoor recreation in the region. The project will be matched with $250,169 in local funds.