Rochester, New York - The wreckage of what is believed to be an original Erie Canal boat has been discovered in the Oswego River south of Fulton, New York. Shipwreck enthusiasts, Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski located the canal boat while searching the Oswego Canal with very high resolution side scan sonar equipment built by a Swedish company, DeepVision.
The canal boat has sunk deep into the bottom of the Oswego River with less than a foot of its upper structure visible. The sonar imagery has provided excellent details of the size, shape, and the deck structure of the vessel. Early canal boats prior to the 1850’s were limited in length to 78 feet as the locks of the original Erie and Oswego Canals were built to only 90 feet. The size of this canal boat was determined by sonar measurements to be approximately 13½ wide by 75½ in length. The size of this canal boat is consistent with those being utilized during the period between1830 to 1850, prior to the canal locks being increased in length. These were shallow boats with a draft of only 3½ feet.
The shape of the canal boat hull shows that it has a rounded bow (bull nose) and a square stern. There is some evidence of either side rails or a portion of the hull protruding above the river bottom. The tiller appears to be intact and remains at the center of the canal boat stern.
Attempts to photograph the canal boat wreckage were unsuccessful due to poor visibility caused by heavy rains. Kennard has since consulted with the NYS Department of Historic Preservation and the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY to determine the vintage and type of canal boat. From the sonar imagery it would appear this is probably an Erie Canal line boat.
Line boats were designed to carry freight but they also carried passengers as well as livestock. Passage on a line boat was cheaper than that of a packet boat which carried only passengers and hand luggage, with no room for gear and supplies. Travellers on line boats could set up tents and cook on deck. They could also bring their freight and livestock with them. Line boats were slower, travelling about 60 miles per day, and generally ran only during the daylight hours. In the early 1830’s half of the boats on the Erie Canal were line boats.
Other canal boats of the late 19th century have been located in Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka Lakes by Kennard and others but none of these were similar to that of the wreck in the Oswego River. It is believed that this is the oldest Erie Canal boat to have been discovered.
The shipwreck search/survey of the Oswego Canal was conducted this Fall and funded by the Oswego Maritime Foundation. Historic shipwrecks abandoned and embedded in New York State underwater lands belong to the People of the State of New York and are protected by state and federal law from unauthorized disturbance.
Shipwreck Discovery Team
Jim Kennard has been diving and exploring the lakes in the northeast since 1970. He has found over 200 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, NY Finger Lakes and in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers over the past 35 years. In 1983 he discovered a unique horse powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain. National Geographic featured the ferryboat in their October 1989 issue. In May 2008 Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the British warship HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes, and in late September 2008 a rare 200 year old "dagger-board" schooner. Both discoveries received worldwide attention in the news
Roger Pawlowski has been diving on shipwrecks in the northeast and Florida for the past 10 years. He is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot and flew missions in Desert Storm. In 1980 while flying a practice mission over Lake Ontario he witnessed a small aircraft plunge into the lake. His details of the incident and location helped Kennard locate the aircraft which was several miles from shore and in over 100 feet underwater. Pawlowski is an electrical engineer and runs his own engineering consultant business.