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The history behind the Ben Franklin Freighter

METAMORA, Ind. (WISH) – Some Indiana history runs so deep through the town of Metamora you have to go underground to find it.

It’s a balancing act on two-by-fours, over scaffolding, and under beams.

“Put your leg here and that’s the easy part, you have to kind of duck your head pretty good here,” said Jay Dishman, site manager for the Whitewater Canal.

It’s a treacherous journey to get a glimpse at the 75-foot replica that’s currently under winter repair.

What we will do is we will replace the foam and then fiberglass up above and down below and make the part of the unibody construction,” said Dishman.

“The Ben Franklin 3” is a fiberglass representation of the original Ben Franklin freigher.

Now used soley as a tourist attraction, the Ben Franklin used to be one of many commerce boats traveling the canal in 1847, hauling everything from lumber to grain.

You could bring bolts of cloth or anything because every ten miles on the canal there was a little town so you always had a port of call,” said Dishman.

The Whitewater Canal stretched 68 miles from Lawrenceburg to Cambridge City, with two extentions to Hagerstown and Cincinnati.

“Most wagons at the time, a ton, ton and a half goods, a number of horses. You can haul up to 20 tons in our boat easily. 25 even,” said Dishman.

Although the canal flourished for ten years, it turned out to be a financial disaster for the state. Between construction costs and maintenance, the canal totalled over $1,000,000. Plus, there was that little thing that came along called the railroad.

The iron horse became a more effective way of moving your goods and, like anything, if you can get your product to market quicker you’re probably going to be better off,” said Dishman.

The canal sat unused until 1973, when the state designated it as an historic site.

“And the town really had a new phase of industry come in, the tourism industry,” said Dishman.

Today, Metamora is a quaint reminder of the good ol’ days. You’ll find fudge shops and leather goods and, perhaps, a ride on the Ben Franklin 3, once Dishman and his team have her up to snuff.

If you’d like to take a ride on the Ben Franklin 3, it hits the water May 1 and takes runs on the hour Wednesdays through Sundays through October.

To learn more about Indiana’s historic sites, go to