Jefferson J. Gray
FUELING THE FIRE: AN UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION OF THE CLAFLIN POINT WRECK AND LITTLE STURGEON, WISCONSIN.
(Under the direction of Professor Bradley A. Rodgers) Department of History, November 1998.
A vessel's skeleton rests a few hundred feet offshore of the Claflin Memorial Park in Little Sturgeon, Wisconsin. An imaginative mind is able to envision these remains as a once lively steamship. After an initial survey in 1994, more than twenty years after its discovery and nearly a century after its sinking, Wisconsin state archaeologists identified the vessel's remains as that of a wooden-hulled steam propeller that had been converted to a barge.
In September of 1995, students and staff from East Carolina University's Program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology conducted a Field Semester course at the site. Aided by SHSW staff, the project was designed as a detailed investigation and documentation of the Claflin Point Wreck. The project's scope has since expanded beyond an exclusive focus on the wreck. The archaeological research generated historical questions. How did the wrecked vessel fit into or affect the economic history of Little Sturgeon? How was this particular vessel, and other similar vessels, used in Great Lakes trade?
The wreck's identity has eluded investigators. However, aided by archaeological and historical research, this site, dubbed the Claflin Point Wreck, offers a glimpse into the fast-paced industrial world of Great Lakes communities during the late nineteenth century. The vessel wrecked at Claflin Point and others like it, were indispensable workhorses in supporting the expansion and development of the region.
The development of lumber, lime, and ice industries put Little Sturgeon on the map, and their demise nearly erased it. Reminders of Little Sturgeon's industrial heritage surround the wreck. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, these industries temporarily transformed Little Sturgeon from an isolated outpost to a center of commercial activity, reliant upon maritime trade for moving products to market. These industries depended upon the village's protected harbor, and as many as six vessels cleared Little Sturgeon dock in a single day. The archaeological site resting offshore of Claflin Memorial Park reflects Little Sturgeon's industrial past and its connection to regional development.
The research design of this project included historical and archaeological analysis and interpretation of the Claflin Point Wreck and the surrounding area. Archaeological methods were used to record and analyze the physical remains of the Claflin Point Wreck and to reveal construction techniques, hull features, and vessel type as well as the circumstances of its loss. Historical research, on the other hand, provided a backdrop to explain how the local industries fit into the larger economic context of the region in the late nineteenth century.