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Tugboat U.S. La Vallee

Steam tug U.S. La Vallee.

On July 11, 1996, the Lake Survey crew covered a total of 7.0 km2 (2.7 mi2) in Shelburne Bay and located three wrecks. One of the wrecks was located in deep water in the area where the tugboat U.S. La Vallee was reportedly sunk in 1931. Later in July, a dive team verified that this shipwreck was indeed that of U.S. La Vallee. The vessel was found sitting intact and upright on the bottom in excellent condition. The wheelhouse with its curved windows lies in pieces, almost as if it had been blown outward. Trapped air may have torn apart the vessel’s wheelhouse in a violent explosion during the vessel's sinking.

History of the Vessel

Early Years of Service (1880-1883)

In 1880 a small wooden tugboat called Henry Lloyd, later in its career named U.S. La Vallee, was launched at Brooklyn, New York. The vessel’s namesake, the name of the shipyard, and the date of the tug’s launching are unknown. The vessel was a coal-fired screw steamer not unlike hundreds of other small towing and service craft serving in coastal and inland shipping of its era.

On December 29, 1880, Patrick Hickey applied to the Collector of Customs at New York City for an official registration number for his recently built vessel Henry Lloyd. The vessel was described as a steam propeller of 13.94 tons burden and 30 hp. On January 5, 1881, C. F. Wager, the Inspector of Customs at New York, issued the tug’s official number as 95624. He noted that the number and tonnage of the vessel had been “duly carved or otherwise permanently marked on her main beam.” The vessel’s name and the hailing port of New York were painted on the tug’s stern in white letters, not less than three inches in length on a black background.

On March 16, 1881, the Collector of Customs at New York issued license #281 for Henry Lloyd to participate in coastal trade. The owner and master were listed as Patrick Hickey of Brooklyn, New York. The license also listed the tug’s dimensions as 12.35 m (40.5 ft) in length, 3.72 m (12.2 ft) in breadth, and 1.46 m (4.8 ft) in depth of hold. When the license had expired, it was surrendered on August 9, 1882, at Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where Hickey had apparently moved his operation. A new license, #26, was issued for Henry Lloyd at Perth Amboy on August 9, 1882. The new master of the tug was listed as Patrick Burns of South Amboy, New Jersey, who appears to have been an employee of Hickey. Henry Lloyd’s tonnage had been recalculated as 13.01 tons, but the tug’s dimensions remained unchanged. On March 13, 1883, James Fagan, Jr., replaced Patrick Burns as master. Hickey surrendered the license for Henry Lloyd at New York City on November 10, 1883, after he sold the tug.

The Georgetown Years (1883-1920)

A new license, #205, was issued for Henry Lloyd on March 13, 1883, at New York City. Henry Lloyd’s new owner was the Georgetown Rice Milling Company of Georgetown, South Carolina, and the vessel’s new master was W.J.L. Uptegrove. After the tug arrived in Georgetown, the New York City license was surrendered on December 3, and a new license, #3, was issued reflecting Henry Lloyd‘s new hailing port of Georgetown and master J.R.S. Sian.

The Georgetown Rice Milling Company owned Henry Lloyd for the next twenty-three years (1883-1906). A series of annual licenses was issued to the Milling Company for Henry Lloyd. Although the tug’s dimensions did not change, gross and net tonnage were given respectively as 13 and 7 tons beginning in 1885. In 1896, Henry Lloyd was further described as having one deck, no mast, a plain or sharp head, and a round stern. J.R.S. Sian was master of the tug from 1883 to 1905. B.T. Daggett, G.F. Samis, and J.D. Johnson served as masters of the vessel from 1905 to 1906.

On February 26, 1906, Henry Lloyd was sold to the Georgetown Chemical Works in Georgetown, South Carolina, with J.D. Johnson as master. J.C. Porter became the vessel’s new master on May 7, 1906. On August 21, 1907, Henry Lloyd’s license was surrendered because the vessel was rebuilt and lengthened. On August 21, 1907, license #4 was issued to reflect the vessel’s new dimensions and tonnage. The license lists the tug’s dimensions as 17.11 m (56.1 ft) in length, 3.72 m (12.2 ft) in breadth, 1.46 m (4.8 ft) in depth of hold, 29.43 gross tons, and 19.13 net tons. The tug was still described as built of wood with one deck, no mast, sharp head, and round stern, with J.C. Porter as the tug’s master. License #4 was surrendered on August 24, 1908, having expired, and license #2, dated August 24, 1908, was issued to replace it. Renewal licenses were issued over the next six years from 1909 to 1914. The masters of Henry Lloyd during this period were J.C. Porter, Robert H. Spencer, W.T. Mills, A.N. Vick, Mort Jones, Edmond Ford, and H.R. Caines. When the Georgetown Chemical Works sold Henry Lloyd, license #2 for the tug was surrendered at Georgetown on April 25, 1917.

License #4 was issued to the new owners, C.S. Juell and C.S. Haight of Georgetown, and James A. Loisch was listed as Henry Lloyd’s new master. This license was in turn surrendered at New York City on December 14, 1920; the reason for surrender was “dismantled, unfit for use.” Seemingly, Henry Lloyd’s career was over; a duplicate of license #4, however, shows the original surrender date and port crossed out and replaced with September 21, 1923, and Albany, New York, with the notation, "abandoned: district, hail & property changed, re-documented." It is unknown who purchased Henry Lloyd in New York, but the buyer probably intended to strip the vessel and reuse its parts. Henry Lloyd, however, was not completely dismantled, although it remained unserviceable for the next three years.

Little is known about the working career of Henry Lloyd during its employment in Georgetown, South Carolina, where the tug spent the longest part of its career. The tug probably performed general harbor and coastal towing duties for the tug’s owners, the Georgetown Rice Milling Company, the Georgetown Chemical Works, and Juell and Haight. A photograph from the Morgan Collection in the Georgetown County Library, entitled Sampit River at a Tranquil Time, shows a stern view of Henry Lloyd tied alongside a scow in Georgetown Harbor. This undated harbor scene was probably taken in the early years of the twentieth century and also shows a sidewheel steamer loaded with sacks of perhaps rice, a small steam tug or launch, and several other scows loaded with what appears to be piling and derrick stone. Henry Lloyd’s tall stack, typical of these early steamers, was later cut down when the vessel was used on the New York Barge Canal System.

The Matton Years (1923-1929)

Another license #4 was issued to John E. Matton of Waterford, New York, on September 21, 1923, and David G. Roberts was listed as the vessel’s master. The vessel was described as a coal burner with a crew of five and used for towing. Although the dimensions were unchanged, the horsepower was given as 75 indicated horsepower (IHP), the first reference to the tug’s horsepower since Patrick Hickey applied for an official registration number in 1880 and listed the horsepower as 30. When the original steam engine was changed is unknown; the engine could have been replaced, however, when the vessel was lengthened in 1907 or when Matton acquired the tug.

License #4 was surrendered at Albany, New York, on December 27, 1923, because the tug’s name was changed to U.S. La Vallee. The tug’s second namesake is unknown. License #7 was issued to John E. Matton as owner and master on December 27, and the license was renewed five times between 1923 and 1929. During this period the vessel’s masters were David G. Roberts, John E. Matton, Robert Ernest McAuliffe, Clayton H. Godfrey, Henry P. Stewart, and Clarence E. McIntyre.

Captain Fred G. Godfrey, a retired tugboat master with over 40 years of service in the inland waters of the Northeast, recalls that John E. Matton owned a shipyard formerly operated by his father, Jesse Matton. The shipyard, which primarily built canal boats, was located on the old Champlain Canal in Waterford, New York. John Matton took control of the shipyard as early as 1904. After completion of the new Champlain Barge Canal in 1915, Matton moved to an island in the Hudson River at Cohoes, New York, where he operated a shipyard and fleet of tugboats. The new yard built a variety of craft including steel barges and tugs. Matton was a hardworking and successful businessman who was later joined by his son Ralph, and the business became known as John E. Matton and Son, Inc. It was during this later period that the company acquired Henry Lloyd and renamed it U.S. La Vallee.

Most of the tugs used on the New York canals were old vessels that came up from the New York Harbor area and were cut down for canal use. Most of these old banners, as the tugboat men referred to them, were near the end of their useful careers, but had been refitted to squeeze a few more years’ service out of them on the canals before being scrapped. U.S. La Vallee was an example of this practice; the tug’s licenses indicate that it was originally abandoned after forty years of service and partially dismantled in 1920 as unfit for use. Matton purchased the tug, however, then had it re-documented and refitted before returning it to service in 1923. The tug remained in Matton’s service for another six years.

Godfrey also recalls U.S. La Vallee from his youth, when his uncle, Clayton Godfrey, was the vessel’s master (1924-1925), although he does not recall hearing much about the boat’s career. The Mattons’ tugs had a light brown hull, deck, and wheelhouse. The trim and lettering on their vessels were white, and some, but apparently not U.S. La Vallee, had a white sheer strip on their hulls. The vessel’s stacks were painted black, and the cabin doors all had a black wooden panel set into them. Typical of the old tugs, U.S. La Vallee had a single cylinder, non-condensing steam engine with an atmospheric exhaust (Fred G. Godfrey, personal communication 1997).

According to Godfrey, John E. Matton was not a licensed master and did not operate U.S. La Vallee. He was apparently listed as such to fulfill a requirement that each vessel have a master on record. Matton was first listed as master during the winter and spring of 1923/24, when the tug was not operating for the winter season. The second time was for a period of over a year from March 1928 to July 1929, before Matton sold the vessel. The tug was probably out of service for this period and laid up waiting to be repaired or sold.

The Cashman Years (1929-1931)

Matton’s license #7 for U.S. La Vallee was surrendered on July 25, 1929, at Burlington, Vermont, due to a change in ownership and district. On the same day, license #J-2 was issued to James E. Cashman, president of James E. Cashman, Inc., of Burlington. John Fleury was listed as the tug’s master. The vessel was described as a coal burner employed in the towing service, with 75 indicated horsepower (IHP) and a crew of three.

James E. Cashman, a contractor from Braintree, Massachusetts, secured contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1905 and 1906 for repairs to the Burlington breakwater. Cashman subsequently remained in Burlington and was involved in the marine and general contracting business for many years both on land and on Lake Champlain. When Cashman purchased U.S. La Vallee from Matton in 1929, the tug was apparently worn out, and much effort was spent to keep the vessel afloat. It is likely that the nearly fifteen-month-long period of apparent inactivity (1928-1929) before Matton sold U.S. La Vallee indicated that the tug was by that time of little value. Cashman probably paid very little for U.S. La Vallee, hoping only to run the tug a few more years.

A series of photographs in a scrapbook from Special Collections at the University of Vermont, which documents the construction of the marine railway at Shelburne Shipyard in 1929, shows a number of views of U.S. La Vallee under repair on the new marine railway (Figure 60). A caption on the back of one of the photographs refers to the tug as the “Useless Valley,” a nickname which aptly described the vessel. U.S. La Vallee, in addition to several other small craft shown together on the marine railway at the same time, was among the first craft to use the new facility.

Fred Valiquette, Sr., of Burlington, Vermont, a retired construction foreman for both the CTC and its successor the Lake Champlain Transportation Company (LCTC), recalls Cashman abandoning efforts to stop the tug’s leaks. Finally, Cashman had the tug towed out into deep water in Shelburne Bay and scuttled. Captain Merritt E. Carpenter of Burlington, a retired ferry captain for LCTC, recalls seeing U.S. La Vallee moving Cashman’s scows and other floating equipment around Burlington Harbor when he was a boy. He was also a witness to the sinking of the tug on June 12, 1931. On that day he was on the dock at Shelburne Shipyard when the old harbor tender Osceola towed the tug out into the bay. Carpenter remembers that the tug sank rapidly stern first but briefly popped back up to the surface before sinking to the bottom.

Cashman’s license for U.S. La Vallee was surrendered at Burlington on June 16, 1931; the reason was noted as “foundered & sunk, total loss – Shelburne Harbor, Vt. June 12, 1931-0-0.” The last two digits, 0-0, indicated that there was no loss of life and that no one was on board at the time the vessel was scuttled. U.S. La Vallee was not to be seen again for another sixty-five years.


Historical Perspective

Lake Champlain's hardworking commercial vessels rarely received public notice while performing their important but unglamorous duties. This situation was true of Henry Lloyd/U.S. La Vallee. The vessel's only public recognition arrives now, when the boat is a submerged wreck, not during the its half-century working career, which ended nearly seventy years ago.

Although no logbooks or other daily records of U.S. La Vallee’s career have come to light, a fairly complete record of the tug’s service has been preserved in its enrollment papers and licenses. A search of the Champlain Canal lock-keepers’ logbooks would probably reveal much about the daily movements of the vessel. A number of photographs have also been located that depict the tug at various times and places during its career. More importantly, we are fortunate to have some personal recollections of the tug by mariners who participated in the twentieth-century maritime history of Lake Champlain.

The importance of this wreck can not be overemphasized. U.S. La Vallee is one of very few steamboat wrecks in Lake Champlain that still have an engine and other machinery on board. The tug’s excellent condition, except for the wheelhouse, presents a unique opportunity for archaeologists to document the construction and design of the vessel in detail. The site is expected to provide a wealth of information on small latter-nineteenth-century steamboat technology. In a sense, U.S. La Vallee’s story is just beginning, as archaeologists and historians start to document and preserve the tug for perhaps the most important chapter of the vessel’s history.


Information Source :
Lessman, A. and S. McLaughlin, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume I: Lake Survey Background and 1996 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 1998.