Archaeological Artifact: 3D Model of a Bearing Block from the Steamboat Phoenix

It’s Vermont Archaeology Month! To celebrate, our Archaeology & Research team are bringing you 3D photogrammetry models of some important and interesting artifacts and shipwrecks each week.

Today, let’s zoom in and explore this 3D model of one of the bearing blocks from the wreck of the steamboat Phoenix. We believe it supported the outboard end of the drive shaft and allowed the paddle wheel to turn freely, propelling the boat forward. It was recovered from the lake by a research team led by Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in July 2021 for further research into early steamboat paddle wheel technology.

Phoenix was the second commercial steamboat launched on Lake Champlain. It was built by steamboat pioneer and Captain, Jahaziel Sherman (1770-1844) for the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company and launched in 1815. Tragically, in the middle of the night on September 4, 1819 while en route from Burlington to Plattsburgh with 46 passengers and under the direction of Jahaziel Sherman’s son, Richard Sherman, a fire broke out on the midships gallery. Most of the people on board were able to safely escape in two small boats but unfortunately, a dozen individuals including the captain were left behind. Several were rescued, including Richard Sherman, but six people ultimately perished. To date, the cause of the fire has not been confirmed.

During the winter of 1819-20, ice trapped and dragged the charred hull remains of Phoenix off of Colchester Shoal and it was lost for years. The wreck was rediscovered in 1978 by divers and researchers, and has since been the subject of multiple archaeological examinations. Several artifacts from Phoenix are available for research as part of the Museum’s collections. It was assumed that the charred hull remains were all that was left of steamboat Phoenix and that all other parts, including the two iconic paddlewheels, were lost to the fire. On August 28, 2020, avocational diver Gary Lefebvre discovered a curious target on his sonar and brought the discovery to the team here at the Museum. It was confirmed to be one of the two missing paddlewheels. Remarkably, just three days later, Lefebvre discovered the other paddle wheel about 100 meters south of the first. This is an ongoing research project for Lake Champlain Maritime Museum with our archaeological partners, Texas A&M University, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. Click here to learn more about the wreck of the steamboat Phoenix.

This 3D photogrammetry model was created by the Museum’s Archaeology & Research Department. Photogrammetry is the practice of using many photographs from multiple angles to create scaled 3D models, maps, and other imagery. This technology has many applications in the field of archaeology. For us, it is especially useful to capture data from underwater sites where time to gather precise measurements and other data are limited by the environment. We are also using it extensively to provide access to selected collections items in the digital space.