Introduced in the early 19th century, snag boats were designed to clear trees, stumps, and other obstructions from navigable rivers and channels. Most were in the form of a catamaran, with two parallel hulls between which trees were hauled in, cut up, and disposed of on land.
Designed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for maintaining the national waterways, Charles H. West was built at Nashville, Tenn., in 1933-34 by the Nashville Bridge Co. at a cost of $227,260.48. It measured 170’ in length and 38’ in beam but only drew 4’-6” of water. Instead of a catamaran design, the West had a normal, shallow sternwheeler hull. At the flat or scow bow, two A-frames hauled snags up a ramp for disposal. It cleared snags along the lower Mississippi River for many years.
In 1969, the West was sold to a private party and converted to the restaurant boat Lt. Robert E. Lee in St. Louis, Mo. the following year. The name was fitting. Although best known as a Confederate general, in the late 1830s, Lee had been an officer in the Corps of Engineers. His work installing pilings and wing dams had helped the Mississippi currents to clear silt and keep open the main St. Louis landing.
Moored on the Mississippi near the St. Louis Arch, the Lee was a successful restaurant until a 1993 flood devastated the waterfront. After several failed attempts to reopen, the vessel was auctioned on December 19, 2008, for $200,000. Its new owners plan to renovate and reopen the famous ship once again as a restaurant and nightclub in St. Louis.
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