Lake Schooner (Wreck SSS) VT-CH-422

In September 1989, Kevin Crisman, Dave Skinas, Ed Bell, and Bryce Howell investigated a large unidentified wreck near the old Brown’s Brickyard in Malletts Bay. Local divers had apparently known of the wreck for some time. The 1989 dive team obtained approximate dimensions and an in situ description of this unidentified wreck. It was found to have an extreme length of 106ft 1in (32.3m) and a maximum beam of 23ft 6in (7.2m) with a 22ft 4in long centerboard trunk. It is flat-bottomed and wall-sided, with edge fastened planks supported by futtocks along the run of the hull. The vessel had a bluff bow and sharp stern built plank-on-frame, rather than edge fastened. It was determined to be a sailing vessel based on the existence of a centerboard trunk, even though no mast steps were visible. These were likely covered as the hull was largely filled with stone rubble, brick and tile. The deck was gone and the sides had partially collapsed.

Sketch plan of Wreck SSS from 1989 inspection; not to scale. Drawn by Kevin Crisman.

The wreck was probably used as a dock or breakwater as part of the brickyard operation, but researchers have not located any reference to a vessel being scuttled here. In November 2002, LCMM reinvestigated this wreck as part of the 2002 Lake Survey to further document the site and attempt to establish the vessel’s identity. What is unusual about this vessel is not only its long length (106ft [32.3m]) and broad beam (+23ft [7.2m]), but the presence of a centerboard trunk.

In the nineteenth century, most sailing vessels with centerboards in Lake Champlain were sailing canal boats. They had narrow beams (12.5 to 14ft [3.8 to 4.3m]) and removable masts to allow their use on the Champlain Canal as well as on the open lake. Sailing vessels with beams in the 18 to 25ft (5.5 to 7.6m) range are usually referred to as ‘lake’ vessels, having been designed for the intra-lake trade and not for the Champlain Canal. Most of these wider vessels, both sloops and schooners, did not have centerboards but relied on their broader beam and deeper hulls for stability on the open lake. The Brown’s Brickyard wreck appears to be one of the few exceptions to this rule.

This vessel has a beam that exceeded the maximum width of the Champlain Canal’s locks as they existed in the nineteenth century. Even though this vessel was too wide to use the Champlain Canal, it was capable of passing through the wider locks of the Chambly Canal on the Richelieu River. Although many of the American built sailing canal boats traded with Canada using the Chambly Canal, this may be the only American built Lake Champlain sailing vessel that was specifically designed to use only the Chambly Canal.

There were only two commercial sailing vessels built on Lake Champlain whose registered length exceeded 100ft – the schooner T.D. Chapman built at Whitehall in 1848 and the schooner Marion built at Ticonderoga in 1882.

Records indicate that T.D. Chapman was a schooner of 150 20/95 tons with a length of 106ft 6in (32.5m), a beam of 25ft 4in (7.7m) and a depth of 6ft 2in (1.9m). Known facts about T.D. Chapmaninclude its rig, dimensions, and construction date and place. Joseph Eaton owned the schooner at one time, and St. Albans was once its homeport. It is likely that T.D. Chapman was just a very large “lake schooner”, without a centerboard, but that is only speculation. There is one reference to a Thomas H. Chapman of 300 tons’ burden at Burlington in 1857. The vessel is not listed in Merchant Vessels of the United States (MVUS) for the year 1870 or thereafter as either rigged or unrigged so it was likely out of service by 1870. Further archival research is underway to see if more specific service dates can be established.

Much more information exists for Marion, built by Zebulon Martin at his yard on Ticonderoga Creek for John J. Bigelow (Adsit & Bigelow, coal dealers) and Joseph Henry Kirby of Burlington in August 1882. In addition to the Official Number (91843), Marion’s enrollment papers provide the following information:

Permanent Enrollment No.1 was issued at Burlington, September 5, 1882 to John J. Bigelow ½ interest (“coal dealer”) and Joseph Henry Kirby ½ interest of Burlington, owners. J. Henry Kirby is listed as master. The vessel is described as a ”Schooner rigged Lake and Canal Vessel” with one deck and two masts, a moulded bow and plain head, and a moulded stern. It has a length of 107 5/10ft (32.8m), a breadth of 22 5/10ft (6.9m), and a depth of 7 8.4/10 feet (2.4m). Tonnage is given as 155.77 gross, 147.99 net. The enrollment was surrendered at Burlington on April 8, 1890 because of change of ownership.

Permanent Enrollment No. 7 was issued at Burlington on May 2, 1890 to new (sole) owner John J. Bigelow of Burlington with Isaac J. Weatherwax listed as master. She is described as a “Schooner rigged Vessel” (“Canal” was no longer included) with a “Round” (moulded) stern. All other information is the same. This enrollment was surrendered at Burlington on February 5, 1891 because of change of ownership.

Permanent Enrollment No. 4 was issued at Burlington on February 25, 1891 to new owner Henry R. Conger as Secretary and Manager for the Consumers Ice Company with Wesley W. Rockwell listed as master. Other information is the same as on the previous enrollment. Permanent Enrollment No. 4 was surrendered at Burlington on December 3, 1895 because “Vessel sold to subject of Great Britain Canada”.

Marion was the largest sailing vessel on the lake after 1882 and was capable of carrying some 330-350 tons of bulk cargoes such as coal and sand. It had been built to operate in the coal and lumber trade between Whitehall and Quebec, which explains the broad beam and need for a centerboard that could be raised when traversing the Chambly Canal.

There are not many references to the vessel before 1885 so it is presumed to have been in the intended Whitehall-Quebec coal and lumber trade. In 1883, there was at least one sand cargo for the Burlington Manufacturing Company and in the following year, Marion had a government contract to set and remove the navigation buoys. In 1885 it was mostly carrying sand for the marble operations of the Burlington Manufacturing Company, with some coal cargoes for Burlington. In 1886, the cargoes were mostly sand and coal but it also had the buoy contract (and would again in 1889).

In 1890 Marion was carrying coal cargoes between Whitehall and Burlington. In 1891 the schooner was sold to the Consolidated Ice Company and fitted out to carry ice from the icehouses on Malletts Bay to Burlington. In 1894 cargoes were ice and coal, and mostly ice in 1895. In May 1895 it was offered for sale at public auction, but was not sold at that time, remaining in the ice trade. In December 1895 Marion was “sold foreign” (Canada) but wintered in Burlington, not sailing north until the spring of 1896.

After 1896 there are only two references, both about Marion bringing lumber or railroad ties from Canada to Burlington in 1900, the latter cargo probably destined for the Rutland-Canadian Railroad. How or when it was sunk in Malletts Bay is unknown, but since it did return to the Burlington area in 1900, it is possible that the schooner was acquired for use as a dock or breakwater at the brickyard. By 1900, Marion was eighteen years old and probably worn out after many hard years in the coal, sand and lumber trade.

The evidence suggests that Wreck SSS is Marion. Although it is not certain at this time, there are a few factors suggesting that the wreck is Marion and not T.D. Chapman:

  • Marion had a centerboard and was built as a lake and canal vessel for the Canadian coal and lumber trade. Its reported beam of 22ft 6in (6.9m) would have allowed passage through the locks of the Chambly Canal. Although the measurements obtained in 1989 indicate the wreck has a beam of 23ft 6in (7.2m), the deteriorated sides may have splayed outboard giving a false width, or the rubble filling the hull may have created problems in measuring. Further documentation is needed to verify this dimension.
  • T.D. Chapman had a beam of 25ft 4in (7.7m), too wide for the locks of the Chambly Canal. It is unknown whether there was a centerboard, which is possible, but unlikely if it was not a canal vessel. The vessel is not included in early lists as one of the non-canal schooners that had a centerboard.
  • Marion was well known in the area, having spent five years in the Malletts Bay ice trade and would have been a likely candidate for use as a dock or breakwater at the brickyard.

A key factor in determining the identity of this wreck will be to confirm the measurement for the maximum beam. This should be possible for a wall-sided, flat- bottomed vessel such as this wreck even with the sides collapsed. Further corroboration might be possible if artifacts or construction details indicate a late rather than a mid-nineteenth century vessel.

Statement of Significance
Wrecks SSS is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion D: Information Potential. It is the only known example of a late nineteenth century lake schooner. Wrecks TTT and UUU may not retain enough site integrity to be eligible by themselves, however, if they were evaluated as a district, which included the underwater and adjacent terrestrial archaeological sites, they would be eligible under Criterion A: Event(s) and Broad Patterns of Events, Criterion C: Design, Construction, and Work of a Master, and Criterion D: Information Potential. Brick making was an important nineteenth century industry in this region of Vermont, and the study of these sites could add substantially to our understanding of that history.

Information Source: 
Adam I. Kane, Christopher R. Sabick and Sara R. Brigadier, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume VI: 2001 Results and Volume VII: 2002 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2003.