Tom Bevill Visitor Center and Museum The Snagboat Montgomery is a museum ship located at the Tom Bevill Visitor Center and Museum, on the Tombigbee River in Pickensville, Pickens County, near the Mississippi border. The visitor center is housed in a replica of a Greek Revival plantation home. The Montgomery is permanently drydocked on the banks of the Tombigbee River. The site is named for Tom Bevill, the long-serving Alabama congressman who represented two districts in west Alabama and secured financial support for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
The Montgomery was built in 1925 by the Charleston Drydock and Machine Company of Charleston, South Carolina, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The vessel was used to clear sunken logs called snags and other obstructions from the Alabama, Apalachicola, Black Warrior, Chattahoochee, Coosa, Flint, and Tombigbee Rivers. The Montgomery also helped create the Alabama-Tombigbee-Tennessee river system as an alternate to the Mississippi River by clearing stretches of the waterways that were previously inaccessible and thereby allowing their increased use in national trade and commerce.
U.S. Snagboat Montgomery The Montgomery is a riveted-steel, steam-powered, stern-wheel-propelled snagboat with a six-ton grappling hook that was used to clear the river bottoms of debris and snags such as stumps and wreckage of other boats. The hull is 178 feet long with the stern wheel and 34 feet and 3 inches wide with a 6-foot draught. The superstructure is constructed of wood and has three decks: the main deck, where the propelling and snagging machinery are located; the upper deck, which is above the boilers; and the pilothouse, which is above the upper-deck roof. There are steam-powered capstans (horizontal winches) and two large steam winches that move the boom. It is supported by a steel A-frame with multiple cables and is partially rigged for dredging with a bucket.
The engine room houses the rudders, auxiliary machinery, engine controls, and two single-piston engines that were built by the Charleston Drydock and Machine Company as well. They produced 325 horsepower and were powered by the large Scotch marine boiler still housed on the ship. It is a “sternwheeler,” with the paddlewheel at the rear, or stern, of the ship. The steering is controlled from the pilothouse, which is constructed of steel and has large, raised sliding windows for better visibility. The second deck housed the officers’ stateroom and mess room, as well as cabins, a galley, a pantry, and the crews’ mess room.
The Montgomery operated on the river from 1927 until its retirement on November 8, 1982. Notably, in 1964 the ship helped raise a section of the remains of the Confederate gunboat CSS Chattahoochee that was scuttled on the Chattahoochee River in December 1864 and is now on display in the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. The Army Corps of Engineers sought to preserve the Montgomery as the last operating steam sternwheeler. It underwent restoration in 1984, when the visitor center was constructed, and became the main attraction at the center. The vessel was also restored once more in 2004, with the goal of maintaining its original appearance. The Montgomery was declared a National Historic Landmark in June 1989 for its importance in increasing national trade and commercial use of the Alabama-Tombigbee-Tennessee River system as well as being one of only two surviving Corps of Engineers snagboats. (The other surviving snagboat is the W. T. Preston in Anacortes, Washington; both document the national use of these vessels.)
The Tom Bevill Visitor Center is housed in a replica of a Greek Revival plantation home. It is decorated with period furnishings and exhibits about life in the Tombigbee River Valley with photographs, models, and videos about wildlife and river travel. A nineteenth-century cast-iron fountain is on display in the garden. The visitor center is located next to the Montgomery and is open year-round Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Nearby is the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam, which impounds the Aliceville Reservoir/Aliceville Lake. The Corp of Engineers oversees the Pickensville Recreation Area, which offers camping and picnicking facilities and access to the reservoir.