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Today is October 15, 2018

Columbus museum showcases Tenn-Tom Waterway

By Nancy Jo Maples

Columbus museum showcases Tenn-Tom Waterway

Interactive exhibits throughout the Tenn-Tom Waterway Transportation Museum provide both fun and educational experiences for all ages. Photo: Tellos Creative

    The Tenn-Tom Waterway Transportation Museum in Columbus provides a fun format for learning about the passageway that connects inland America to the Gulf of Mexico.
    An estimated 2,000 guests tour the museum each year. The facility opened in February 2015 and the number of visitors is expected to increase as public awareness grows. Admission is free of charge, but donations are appreciated.
    “We want all school children to have the opportunity to tour this very educational hands-on museum, and sometimes their funds might prohibit that and we would never want that to be the case,” Executive Director Agnes Zaiontz said.
    All exhibits are interactive, making the museum an entertaining and educational opportunity for both students and adults. “This has truly been a labor of love for the board and myself. We wanted to capture the long history of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway along with the construction, legal battles, funding and development. I think we have done it well,” Zaiontz said.
    The museum highlights the uniqueness of the waterway with its extensive lock and dam system. The museum also explains the intermodal system through which the waterway works with other transportation methods, such as railroads, to carry goods in a single journey.
    While the waterway’s primary purpose is to provide a transportation route, it consequentially offers a multitude of recreational opportunities like camping, boating, picnicking, fishing and hunting.
    The Tenn-Tom connects the Tennessee River and the Tombigbee River. The water route has a storied past of opposition from environmentalists who wanted to preserve nature, railroad companies who sought to thwart transportation competition, and other states who wanted government funding for their own projects.
    French explorers in the mid-1700s recognized the benefit of a connected water route in this area. Studies in the first half of the 20th century led to congressional approval of the waterway in 1946. However, opposition via politics and through the court system prevented the Tenn-Tom from becoming reality until 1985.
    The passageway officially opened to commercial voyages on Jan. 10, 1985. A lottery was conducted to select the first vessel to transit the waterway. The towboat, Eddie Waxler, won the draw and transported almost 2.7 million gallons of petroleum products.
    Stretching 234 miles, the $2 billion federally funded waterway starts on the Tennessee River near the Tennessee state line in the upper eastern corner of Mississippi and runs southward through Tishomingo, Itawamba, Monroe, Clay, Lowndes and Noxubee Counties. It continues in a southeasterly direction to Demopolis, Ala. where it intersects the Tombigbee River.
    The Tombigbee continues southward to the Mobile Bay and to the Gulf of Mexico. The Tenn-Tom channel is 9 feet deep, 300 feet wide and has 10 locks. The connecting strip enables shipping from Kentucky to the Gulf.
    The Tenn-Tom Waterway’s selling points include the fact that an eight-barge tow can move as much freight as 120 railcars or 461 tractor trailer trucks. A barge can move a ton of freight twice as far as a train and eight times as far as a tractor trailer on the same amount of fuel, according to the waterway’s website,
    The waterway shortens shipping distances for many inland ports by 800 miles or more. Common items shipped via the channel include timber, wood chips, petroleum by-products, crushed rock and grains.
    Geared toward youngsters and adults, the museum’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. –  2 p.m. and by appointment on weekends. Special tours can be arranged by calling 800-457-9739. Its physical location is 318 Seventh St. North in Columbus.
    Writer Nancy Jo Maples can be reached at 188 Ernest Pipkins Road, Lucedale, Miss. 39452 or via email at

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