Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Graveyard – Institute of Nautical Archaeology Institute of Nautical Archaeology Sun, 18 Feb 2018 21:37:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Phoenix (II) Rising Thu, 08 Sep 2016 21:43:02 +0000 shelburnefeatureimageMarmarinou measures
The Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Graveyard Research Project, directed by Dr. Kevin Crisman (INA Vice President) and Carolyn Kennedy a Texas A&M Ph.D. student, was featured in an article on the Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts Blog.  The article describes the field season and the next steps for the recovered artifacts now housed in the New World Lab of the Nautical Archaeology Program.  The Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Graveyard Research Project was the 2016 recipient of the Claude Duthuit Archaeology grant, which provides the project with $25,000 in support.  Learn more about the Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Graveyard Research Project here, or read the full article on!
The project entails the study of four steamboat hulls that currently lie in Shelburne Shipyard, Lake Champlain, Vermont.


Shelburne Shipyard Field Season 2016 Sat, 04 Jun 2016 02:25:00 +0000 Hi There!

The Texas A&M University, Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) crew is back to work for a third season at the Shelburne Shipyard in Lake Champlain, Vermont. The Shelburne Shipyard Project is an ongoing project co-directed by Dr. Kevin Crisman and Carolyn Kennedy (me) since 2013, its first field season taking place in June of 2014.  Each year, Crisman and Kennedy have brought a team of nautical archaeology students from Texas to Vermont to record shipwrecks in the natural harbor at the northern end of Shelburne Point that was chosen as the shipyard location for early Lake Champlain passenger steamboat companies due to its natural protection from the prevailing winds on the lake (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1: Location of Shelburne Shipyard on northeastern shore of Shelburne Point, Vermont.

A working shipyard for 196 years (and counting), Shelburne Shipyard was first purchased for shipbuilding purposes by the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company in 1820.  Between them and the Champlain Transportation Company, most of Lake Champlain’s passenger steamboats were built at this location, and a large number of them were retired in the older part of the shipyard once they had outlived their usefulness (Fig. 2).

Shelburne 2

Fig. 2: A view of Shelburne Shipyard from the southern shore facing north ca. late 1850s. The retired, rotting hulls of Burlington (1837-1854) and Whitehall (1838-1853) have nowhere to go but down.

Among those that were retired in the Shipyard are the four steamer wrecks our crew investigated in 2014 and 2015.  We believe these wrecks to be the remains of the steamboats A. Williams (1870), Phoenix II (1820), Burlington (1837) and Whitehall (1838) (Fig. 3).


Fig. 3: A satellite image of Shelburne Shipyard showing the four steamer wrecks. From left to right: A. Williams, Phoenix II, Burlington and Whitehall. (Bing Maps, 2013).

Fig. 3: A satellite image of Shelburne Shipyard showing the four steamer wrecks. From left to right: A. Williams, Phoenix II, Burlington and Whitehall. (Bing Maps, 2013).



This year, the objective is to record cross section information from Wreck 2, or Phoenix II, in order to reconstruct what the steamer hull most likely looked like when it was retired in 1837. Wreck 2 has gone through several identity crises since the beginning of this project back in 2013, first thought to be either Franklin (1827) based on historical sources, then Winooski (1832), based on the length: the wreck was 133 feet long and Winooski was 136 feet long.  Last year, when Dr. Crisman and I began recording sections, we realized the beam of the wreck at over 25 feet was much too large to fit the 20-1/2-foot beam of Winooski. After this realization, I spent the summer reading historical documents that might provide any clue to the identity of Wreck 2.  Finally after much searching I found an enrollment paper for Phoenix II indicating the length was 143 feet, instead of the historically reported 150 feet found in the more ‘popular’ publications, making this steamer, with its beam of 27 feet, the most likely candidate for the identity of Wreck 2 (Fig. 4).  It certainly didn’t hurt that Wreck 2 bore a remarkable resemblance to the wreck of Phoenix I (Fig. 5)!!

Fig. 4: The enrollment papers that reported the true size of Phoenix II.

Fig. 4: The enrollment papers that reported the true size of Phoenix II.

Fig. 5: Scaled site plans of Phoenix I (top) and stbd. side of Phoenix II (bottom). Both wrecks are similar in timber sizes and placements, and the overall lengths and beams are within just a couple of feet! (Top: G. Schwarz, 2012; Bottom: C. Kennedy, 2014).

Fig. 5: Scaled site plans of Phoenix I (top) and stbd. side of Phoenix II (bottom). Both wrecks are similar in timber sizes and placements, and the overall lengths and beams are within just a couple of feet! (Top: G. Schwarz, 2012; Bottom: C. Kennedy, 2014).

Wreck 2, now believed to be the remains of Phoenix II, is an incredibly important archaeological site for several reasons. First of all, our knowledge of early steamboat construction is limited due to spotty historical documentation, and therefore the information we can glean from the archaeological evidence is some of the only information available for the time period between 1810 and 1850.  Secondly, this wreck is a historically important, though rather grim, part of North American history, as it was the death-place of the first fatal cholera victim, a man named John Larned, on June 15, 1832.  Larned boarded Phoenix II in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu on June 14, 1832, after visiting a cholera hospital in Montreal, and 15 hours later, when the steamer arrived at its destination in Whitehall, New York, he was dying.  This was all recorded in the diary of Captain Gideon Lathrop, master of the Phoenix II (Fig. 6).

Portrait of Captain Gideon Lathrop (Stott, Peter. 'Portrait of Gideon Lathrop (1805-1877). Columbia County Historical Society, Winter 2015, 30-38).

Fig. 6: Portrait of Captain Gideon Lathrop (Stott, Peter. ‘Portrait of Gideon Lathrop (1805-1877). Columbia County Historical Society, Winter 2015, 30-38).

After Larned passed, nearly 150 people fell victim to the disease in the town of Whitehall, and the bacteria continued to travel south along the canals and waterways to New York City, where thousands died tragically over the course of the summer.  Phoenix II, therefore, is responsible for bringing cholera into the United States, changing history forever.

The work we’re doing in Shelburne Shipyard is intended to call attention to the important role Lake Champlain’s steamboats had on early North American history, not only for the important events they were involved in, but how they themselves are examples of the changing technologies that are representative of and helped bring about the industrial revolution.

As we continue recording these wrecks, we would like to share with you some of the less scholarly, but more day-to-day aspects of this archaeological project. We are incredibly fortunate to have such a logistically easy and aesthetically beautiful working place, with great thanks to Mark Brooks and Charlie Tompkins for letting us stage our 12-14 person crew off their front yards (Fig. 7)!

Fig. 7: The view from our staging area! (Photo: A. Burford)

Fig. 7: The view from our staging area! (Photo: A. Burford)

The shale beach and shallow site, paired with the naturally protected harbor make diving a breeze – with 2-hour bottom times and minimal weather hazards our crew can get a lot of work done in a day.

For the most part, this wreck is an easy archaeological job.  Most of it is exposed above the lake bottom, fairly well-preserved thanks to Lake Champlain’s cold, fresh water. Unfortunately for Chris Sabick, the LCMM’s archaeological director, the lower part of the wreck’s stern has disappeared behind tightly-packed clay.  As it turns out, even underwater archaeologists should always keep a trowel handy (Fig. 8)!

Fig. 8: Chris Sabick holds up his trowel after digging in the clay (Photo: C. Kennedy).

Fig. 8: Chris Sabick holds up his trowel after digging in the clay (Photo: C. Kennedy).

Wrapping Up Sat, 28 Jun 2014 19:56:03 +0000 June 28th, 2014

Well, our field work is officially done. This weekend will be focused on synthesizing notes and creating a scale site plan for each of our four wrecks before we go our separate ways. Our PIs are pleased with the progress we’ve made. Carolyn will be researching these steamboats for her thesis and we’re all excited to see what she comes up with!



We’ve had a really friendly, helpful, and productive group and we want to thank everyone involved. Our dive masters Ron Adams and Rob Wilczynski were excellent!

Chris Sabick and Paul Gates from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum were very helpful in the water and we couldn’t have been as successful without them. We learned a lot from Art Cohn’s talks on safety, site management and ethics. The support of the LCMM and INA made this project possible, as well as the generous landowners at the site, Margie Aske and Mark Brooks.

Thanks also to the entire crew for working so hard and having such a great attitude throughout the survey

Finally, an extra special thanks goes to our principle investigators, Carolyn Kennedy and Dr. Kevin Crisman for managing the project, keeping morale high, and generally making everything run so smoothly!

Final Week! Sun, 22 Jun 2014 19:48:22 +0000 June 22, 2014

Last weekend our visit to the steamboat Ticonderoga at the Shelburne Museum showed us how our project boats might have looked in their prime. It’s a very impressive reconstruction! Of course, this represents how Ti looked in 1923, and it was a metal hull, so its a bit more modern than what we’re looking at, but it was informative to see the machinery and how everything fit together on a Lake Champlain steamboat.

It’s hard to believe but we’re already moving into our final week here at Lake Champlain. We had great weather throughout our second week and the team has been hard at work recording the steamboat hulls. Features are becoming clearer as parts of the hull are cleared of lake debris, and some of our divers have gotten up close and personal with a few freshwater creatures including small mouth bass, perch, bow-fin, crayfish, and even a mud puppy. Still no sightings of the local lake monster, Champ, though.


We’ve already had some surprises, as the hulls of Wreck 1 and Wreck 2 are shorter than expected. We know this because we found both the bow and stern for each, so we know their original lengths within a few feet. This has forced us to reconsider which Lake Champlain steamboats these might have been. Based on some more modern construction features, we believe that Wreck 1 is more recent than expected. The steamboat A. Williams is a possibility, and we’ve even discovered a photograph with its dilapidated hull very close to the location of Wreck 1. These will be interesting mysteries to solve as the project goes on!


This weekend we said goodbye to our very hard working volunteer, Dan Bishop. He’s off to prepare for his up-coming wedding. Congrats, Dan! His enthusiasm was contagious and we’re definitely going to miss him in our final week. We wish him the best! Carrie Sowden just arrived today and will take over for Dan on the Wreck 3 team.

This week we will focus on recording remaining frameworks, and trying to get a cross section for each hull if possible. We’ll spend next weekend trying to synthesize all the notes into scale plans for each wreck. There’s still plenty of work to do, so our team presses on!

Nathan Gallagher, M.A. Student, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University

The Real Work Begins! Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:41:23 +0000 Friday, June 13, 2014

It’s been a busy week, but we’re only getting started. With check-out dives in Basin Harbor on Monday and Tuesday, our team was prepared to start diving on the wreck site at Shelburne Harbor. They toured the four wrecks on Wednesday to get oriented and everyone was excited to get started with the real survey. Unfortunately Thursday’s weather prevented us from diving, but we were back out this morning and the real work began.


Divers were divided into four teams, one for each wreck, so that pairs can focus on one hull over the course of the field school. Dive masters and volunteers will also help each pair as needed, and I’m directing shore support to keep an eye on our divers from above, and keep them safe from boat traffic.

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Divers gear up for their first tour of the four steamboat hulls.

Today our teams were focused on familiarizing themselves with their individual wrecks and started laying base lines so we can begin taking measurements along the lengths of the hulls. We even got some pictures and lots of great GoPro footage, and we’re already starting to discover some interesting features that will become clearer in the coming weeks. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some of the underwater footage up to the blog soon too!


Dr. Kevin Crisman and Grace Tsai take a boat to deliver buoys to key points at the site.

We’ve only scratched the surface and you can feel the excitement everyone has to get back in the water and learn more! Boat traffic is expected to be heavier during the weekends so we’ve opted not to be at the site on Saturdays and Sundays, but I know our team will be anxious to dive back in (groaaan) on Monday, weather permitting.

Until then we hope to see the Shelburne Museum where the Lake Champlain steamboat Ticonderoga is displayed, and explore some other points of interest in the local area.

Nathan Gallagher, M.A. Student, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University

Preparation Mon, 09 Jun 2014 10:50:05 +0000 Monday, June 9, 2014

Everyone arrived at the cabin in Ferrisburgh, Vermont over the weekend and it fits our team quite comfortably. The views of the mountains and forests are fantastic but there’s hardly been time to enjoy it since we’re getting ready for the field school right away. Our team consists of Texas A&M grad students Mara Deckinga, myself (Nathan Gallagher), Stephanie Koenig, Grace Tsai, Nautical Archaeology program graduate Dr. Rebecca Ingram, and undergraduate student Var Marmarinou. Dan Bishop and George Schwartz are also volunteering for the first half of the project, and later we’ll be joined by Carrie Sowden. Throughout the project we have invaluable support from the staff of the Lake Champlain Maritime museum, including Erick Tichonuk, Sarah Tichonuk, Art Cohn, Chris Sabick, Paul Willard, Rob Wilczynski, Pierre Larocque, Ron Adams, and Alex Lehning. We’re extremely grateful for their help both in and out of the water! Last but not least, Dr. Kevin Crisman and PhD candidate Carolyn Kennedy are our co-principle investigators.

Both co-PIs have already had a sneak peak at the site and can testify to the huge amount of work we’re facing in order to survey these four large steamboat hulls resting in Lake Champlain’s Shelburne bay. The largest hull is 206 feet long! The volume of remains we’re dealing with will make for a tremendous deal of recording, mapping, and eventually interpretation. Luckily the lake has warmed up to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which should make for some fairly comfortable diving. The wrecks are also quite shallow, resting at only 3 to 10 feet deep. Visibility will be up to 12 feet. Challenges our divers will face include large iron rods that jut up from the ship remains, sharp zebra mussels that have invaded the lake in recent years, boat traffic in the marina, and reduced visibility when the lake turns. Of course, safety is our first priority and we’ll have a great team all looking out for each other.

Dan checking out the site.

Dan checking out the site.

So far we’ve been busy gathering and prepping materials, and settling in to the cabin, but our divers also had their first check-out dive in Lake Champlain today at Basin Harbor. All performed well and will have another day of check out dives tomorrow to orient themselves before the survey begins. Chris and Carolyn gave us some excellent introductory talks to the history of Lake Champlain and its steamboats, and Dr. Crisman refreshed us on ship construction so that we’re ready to hit the ground running. Everyone is anxious to get started and we’re feeling optimistic about the work we’re going to do!


For now we want to extend a very special thanks to Marge Aske, owner of Aske Marina, Jim Moore and Dave Mithcell, co-managers of Aske Marina, Mary Griswold, owner of Shelburne Shipyard, and Mark Brooks, a property owner at the site. Without their support this project would not be possible!

Nathan Gallagher, M.A. Student, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University

Less than two months away Tue, 15 Apr 2014 10:42:25 +0000 Welcome to the Shelburne Steamboat Graveyard blog!

Things are looking good for our three weeks at Shelburne Bay this June.  We’ve got our ‘log cabin in the woods’ booked, and pictures show it’s actually quite nice.  A little off the beaten path, but as our Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) connection says, it’ll be a ‘real Vermont experience’ (in other words we may or may not have internet and/or cell phone reception).  Of course, the best field schools don’t usually come with the comforts of home – where would the sense of adventure come from?

After a meeting last week, our ten students are finalizing certifications and travel arrangements.  As part of the nautical archaeology program’s ‘Shipwreck Weekend’ this past Saturday, I gave a quick presentation on some of the mysteries we’ll be trying to solve this summer.  Wasn’t I surprised when more than a couple of people told me how exciting this trip sounds!  Here I thought I was the only one excited.

I’m off to chat with the owners of the marina where we’ll be working out of, but stay tuned as we get closer to June – more exciting news to come!



A view of the house we’ve rented.

Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Field School 2014 Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:39:22 +0000 feature-image

This summer a team of nautical archaeologists from Texas A&M University will conduct an underwater survey on four shipwreck hulls lying in Shelburne Bay, Shelburne. This project will be conducted under the direction of Dr. Kevin J. Crisman, associate professor of the nautical archaeology program at Texas A&M, and director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation, in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

The goal of this project is to record and document four shipwreck hulls in an effort to understand early Lake Champlain steamboat construction. The shipwrecks are believed to be the abandoned hulls of Burlington (1837), Whitehall (1838), and two other currently unidentified steamboats of the early nineteenth century. To date, very little research has been done on early steamboat construction, and these wrecks will provide us with valuable information on that subject.

Kevin Crisman (INA/TAMU)
Caroline Kennedy (TAMU)