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Standard Canal Boat (Wreck ZZZ) (NYSM 11626)

Wreck ZZZ is a standard canal boat originally located in 1984 by the Champlain Maritime Society during a side scan sonar survey; its 1984 designation was LC84-15. An archaeological diver verified the shipwreck after its initial discovery; however, dive conditions were poor and did not allow for document the site. The wreck was relocated during the 2003 Lake Survey and verified in October 2003. Subsequent to its 1984 discovery the site was assigned a Vermont Archaeological Inventory number (VT-AD-725), however, precise positioning data from the 2003 Lake Survey indicates that the vessel lies on the New York bottomlands of Lake Champlain, and thus has subsequently been given a NYSM site number.

Preliminary archaeological drawing of Wreck ZZZ. Drawn by Adam Kane

The extent of the remains is difficult to determine because very little of Wreck ZZZ is exposed above the lake bottom. The canal boat’s deck, cabin trunk and cabin roof are missing, however most of the rest of the hull is likely present below the sediments. The extant remains are 81ft 8in (24.9m) long, measuring from the stem to a vertical member at the stern, which may be the rudderpost or sternpost. The beam could not be determined due to the buried nature of the remains. The boat’s length indicates that Wreck ZZZ is an early Lake Champlain canal boat (1823-1858) built before the completion of the first expansion of the Champlain Canal in 1858.

The wreck’s most exposed feature is the stem, which stands 6ft (1.8m) above of the bottom. The starboard side of the bow has peeled away from the stem; however the port side is intact up to the tops of the futtocks. The bow shape is sharper than the rounded bow seen on later class vessels. The exterior of the bow has two rubrails, both with iron bands on their forward faces. The plank-on-frame hull becomes further buried toward the stern, making documentation impossible in this stage of fieldwork. The aftermost remains consisted only of a single beam protruding from the sediments along the presumed centerline. No remains were noted past this post. The canal boat’s last cargo, a load of iron ore, is still preserved in the hull.

The location of Wreck ZZZ and its cargo corresponds with an August 1870 newspaper account of a canal boat sinking. Several regional newspapers reproduced the following story:

CANAL BOAT SUNK – Thursday night [August 18] as the steamer Winslow was passing Chimney Point, going south with a tow of boats, one of the boats, the Ella R. Bailey, loaded with iron ore, filled and sank almost immediately. The captain and his wife had barely time to save themselves.

The discovery of iron ore cargo during the target verification phase of the fieldwork initially seemed to determine conclusively that the wreck was the Ella R. Bailey. Further historic research, however, has cast doubt on that conclusion. No vessels by the names of Ella R. Bailey are found in any edition of the List of Merchant Vessels of the United States (MVUS) or in the New York State Canal Boat Registers (NYSCBR). However, a vessel with a similar name is listed in the MVUS 1870. The canal boat Ella E. Bayles (O/N 36365, 40.05 tons) homeported in Frankfort, New York, appears in 1870, and again in the MVUS 1871-1876 as Ella E. Bagley. The MVUS 1877-1878 lists her homeport as Oswego, New York. She is not listed in the MVUS 1879 and is not listed in the initial MVUS 1868 list. The boat is also listed in the NYSCBR for 1870 and 1878 as Ellie E. Bagley.

If Wreck ZZZ is Ella (Ellie) E. Bagley, it is still listed after its 1870 sinking in the MVUS and NYSCBR from 1870-1878. This is not unusual because many vessels were carried in the lists years after they were lost or abandoned because the paper work was not submitted. Periodically the government agencies that maintained these records purged the entries if the boat did not report after a certain number of years. However, the homeport was changed from Frankfort to Oswego in 1877 suggesting that the boat was still in service after 1870. If it were the Ella (Ellie) E. Bagley that sank in 1870 in Lake Champlain it could have been salvaged as it was apparently a fairly new boat (NYS Certificate of Registry dated May 20, 1867) and was in shallow water. If that were the case, then Wreck ZZZ is another boat, perhaps an older Lake Champlain boat, even though the location and cargo suggest that it was the boat that sank in 1870.

Information Source:
Newspaper Excerpt from: Burlington Free Press and Times, 22 August 1870.

Adam I. Kane, A. Peter Barranco, Joanne M. DellaSalla, Sarah E. Lyman and Christopher R. Sabick, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume VIII: 2003 Results and Volume IX: 2004 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2007.