Researchers are calling artifacts recovered from a 200-year-old shipwreck in Shelburne Bay a breakthrough discovery.
In the Shelburne shipyard, divers are tracking a piece of Lake Champlain’s history that dates back 180 years — four shipwrecks, steamboats scuttled and forgotten.
For three years, Crisman, a Texas A&M professor, and graduate student Carolyn Kennedy have brought a team of archaeologists to study the shipwrecks that date back to the 1830s.
“We’re kind of doing in a sense an autopsy here. We don’t really know how they built the boats, exactly how the machinery worked,” Kevin Crisman said.
Last week, they had a breakthrough. Under the wreckage, a diver found an old broken chisel. On it was the word “Phoenix.”
“I was in tears, practically. I had to run around and show everyone. Finding a tool with the name on it, it’s almost unheard of,” Carolyn Kennedy said.
Identifying the boat as The Phoenix II, which ran from 1820 to the late 30s. The Phoenix II probably looked similar to another similar ship that carried passengers from Montreal to New York.
“After 180 years, especially something made of iron, in a working shipyard, is so near impossible. These were really like our cars, our buses, our trains today,” Kennedy said.
It’s week three of diving for the group. The ship’s frames are mostly all that’s left. They’re piecing together artifacts to identify the four boats steeped in history. The Phoenix II carried Marquis de Lafayette. It also brought the disease cholera to America. Kennedy clings to that history that the lake has preserved for decades.
“They’re preserved really well because of that cold, fresh water. It’s like a fridge,” she said.
That fridge holds a treasure if you ask Kennedy. That treasure is not the new Chris Craft still floating in the marina, but the ancient steamboat that’s called the Shelburne Shipyard home since Andrew Jackson left the White House.
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