Fall 2005 Field School
Part One: Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
On September 4, 2005, seven ECU Maritime Studies students, dive safety officer Mark Keusenkothen, Principal Investigator Dr. Bradley Rodgers, and Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Nathan Richards piled into two vans. Our destination was Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and the goal of our two week stay was documenting the wreck of a steambarge tentatively identified as the Joys. Steambarges, also known as lumber hookers, were an important vessel type on the lakes during the 1800s, a transitional ship type with characteristics of a schooner, but propelled by steam.
We finally arrived in Sturgeon Bay shortly after 9:00 pm on Monday. The long journey was rewarded with our first look at Robertson’s Cottages, our home away from home for the next two weeks. Each cottage featured unique décor in true North Woods fashion, and was situated a stone’s throw from the water. The group spent the first morning unloading, unpacking, and organizing project and personal gear, buying groceries, and settling in. In the afternoon, everyone donned their snorkeling gear and loaded into two, 21 foot Boston Whalers, provided by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and traveled to the wreck site for an initial evaluation. The wreck is located in ten feet of water near Sunset Park and the Bay Shipbuilding Company in Sturgeon Bay. During the evaluation, we discussed the wreck’s orientation and identified various features. We also examined the surrounding area for additional wreckage.
The next day was a flurry of activity. The group divided into three teams. Dr. Rodgers, Sami Seeb, and Stephanie Allen went to Sunset Park to scout out a suitable location for the datum and to begin mapping the shoreline with the total station. Brian Diveley, Adam Morrisette, and Tiffany Pecoraro set up the 170 foot baseline on the Sunset Park site, and Dr. Richards, Dina Bazzill, and Michelle Liss did a swim survey on snorkel along the shoreline to look for wreckage. During the survey, the remains of a possible scow schooner were located.
Mapping the wreck began on Thursday, September 8th, and the first 10 foot wreck sections were completed. Because of the good visibility, mapping the wreck was a fairly simple process. Zebra mussels, however, covered almost every inch of the site. In some places, the mussel layer was eight inches thick and divers had to remove the mollusks with scrapers and trowels to uncover features. Once the mussels were cleared off, divers recorded measured sketches in ten foot sections along the baseline. Several interesting features emerged from the remains including decorative metalwork, broken ceramics, iron fasteners, and evidence of extensive charring and burning. At the end of every diving day, students plotted their data on a large map to produce a scale version of the site.
It is still unclear whether the Sunset Park wreck is the steambarge Joys. Some evidence, such as extensive burning on the timbers, indicates that it could be the Joys; however, the wreck appears longer than measurements given for the Joys on the vessel’s enrollments. Further analysis of historical documentation is required. In either case, the Wisconsin component of the fall field school was a success. ECU’s examination and documentation of this wreck provides an important addition to the scant information available on this transitional vessel type. Only one other steambarge, the Adventure, has been archaeologically documented.
A special thanks is owed to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, especially Keith Meverden (ECU 2005) and Tamara Thomsen, for providing their time, information, financial and logistical support for the project. Without them the project would not have been possible. – Dina Bazzill
Part Two: Thunder Bay, Michigan
The fall 2005 field crew traveled to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve in Alpena, Michigan, for the second half of field school. Our next assignment was to locate and record the remains of the passenger freight propeller Congress. The vessel was reported a total loss after running aground on North Point Reef, west of Thunder Bay Island in Lake Huron on October 26, 1868.
In 1868, just months before its demise, the Congress’ steam engine was outfitted with an oil fired boiler. During this period, the Great Lakes shipping industry attempted to transition from wood to coal fuel. In fact, oil fuel was not accepted until the early 1900s, decades later. This could make Congress the first oil fired steamer on the Great Lakes, a noteworthy addition to the sanctuary’s roster of confirmed resources.
The exact location of the vessel was unknown. Earlier remote sensing surveys, conducted by NOAA and University of Rhode Island, confirmed several potential locations along the reef. Our job was to ground truth target areas in hopes of identifying Congress. Once identified, we planned to perform a Phase II recording. The prospective sites, however, were scattered along a two mile stretch of the reef. With only ten available working days, the project was quite ambitious. In order to
accomplish the task, the field crew split into two teams. The first team buoyed locations and snorkled each site to make a preliminary assessment. The second team followed using scuba and hooka to produce scaled drawings at each location. Day after day, often in poor weather and rough seas, both crews worked hard and fast to find the Congress.
By the end of the first week, our search for the Congress remained fruitless. Previously unidentified sites, however, were accumulating rapidly. What initially were only a handful of anomalies now numbered thirty four different loci. Sites ranged from a small scatter of iron plating with fastenings to a 130’ section of articulated hull, with intact frames, ceiling and exterior planking. An additional larger, more complex site was identified that contained remnants of two nineteenth century steamers. The overlay of historic debris was not surprising. North Point Reef is a known shiptrap along with its southern counterpart Black River Reef. Thunder Bay Life Saving Station documented over seventy groundings and losses from 1877 to 1914 at North Point alone. This total does not include unknown vessels lost prior to the installation of the station.
With only two dive days left and weather turning worse, the search for Congress was terminated and emphasis placed upon documenting existing sites. To do this, an abbreviated recording style was adopted. Working in teams of two, one diver collected diagnostic measurements, while the other photographed the site. Overall site dimensions were recorded, along with the number and type of frame sets, and the molded and sided dimensions of main structural components. The orientation of each site and bottom composition were noted for later GIS site mapping. This system enabled us to extract the most important data in the shortest time. Unfortunately, bad weather kept us out of the water for one day, but on the last day the skies cleared. With an awesome 60’ of visibility and calm seas, the field crew recorded a total of twenty-four sites, finishing the project.
In all, while the second half of fall field school was unsuccessful in discovering remains of the Congress, it turned out to be one of the most useful experiences shared by our class since coming to ECU. In two weeks, we were able observe, in situ, almost a century’s worth of Great Lakes vessel types. We also gained a working knowledge of wreck analysis and saw the dynamic nature of site formation processes first hand. As a final lesson, we gained practical experience in salvaging a project when things don’t go according to plan, for that we have to thank Dr. Richards, the Principal Investigator for this portion of the field project.
On that note, it should be mentioned, funding for the project was provided, in part, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program. Wayne Lusardi (ECU 1998), the Michigan State Maritime Archaeologist and Patrick Labadie, Thunder Bay Preserve’s resident historian, were our invaluable local contacts. Wayne spearheaded the effort to provide boats and equipment, as well as aiding us daily with his diving and recording skills. Pat provided historic and geographic information for wreck sites and even lent us his own boat when we came up short a dive platform. Mark Keusenkothen, our dive safety officer, kept us geared up and ready to go, despite changing conditions and scheduling. All three were instrumental in the successful completion of the project. – Tiffany Pecoraro