Standard Canal Boat Vergennes, “Stove Boat”

In 1990, sport divers discovered a shipwreck in Lake Champlain’s New York waters. They reported their discovery to the LCMM, which visited the site to determine its archaeological and historical importance. The vessel turned out to be a scow-class Lake Champlain standard canal boat. The hull, which is in an excellent state of preservation, lies on its port side at an angle of approximately 70 degrees. A number of cast iron stoves, visible among the piles of cargo inside the hold, are responsible for the wreck’s nickname of “Stove Boat.”

LCMM’s initial survey verified the wreck, recorded its position, determined its orientation, took overall measurements, and produced video footage. The vessel’s dimensions and scow construction probably make it an early Lake Champlain canal boat. Unique among canal boats investigated to date, the Stove Boat is an important site for understanding both the history of the Champlain Canal and the technology and development of canal boat construction. For these reasons, LCMM selected the site for in-depth documentation during the 1998 archaeological field season.

Perspective drawing of the Stove Boat Vergennes.

The hull’s overall length is 80ft (24.4m), its beam is 12ft 6in (3.8m), and its depth is 5ft 6in (1.7m). With such dimensions, the Stove Boat was probably designed to navigate the early canal and its lock system. The Stove Boat’s design is simple, but many of its construction features became standard in later, larger, and more complex canal boats. A true keel is absent from the bottom of the vessel, and a keelson with multiple sister keelsons provided the vessel bottom’s primary longitudinal support. These interior longitudinal timbers also served as a solid platform for ceiling planking and cargo.

On its final voyage, the Stove Boat was carrying a cargo of manufactured iron goods. Among these items were iron stoves, cauldrons, and teakettles. The cargo shifted to port as the vessel sank, and it now remains in an excellent state of preservation under a layer of mud. The archaeological investigation of the Stove Boat included the removal of a single artifact from the vessel’s hold. A single large cast iron cauldron, representative of the rest of the cargo, was selected and taken to the Conservation Laboratory at the LCMM for stabilization. However, the conservation staff quickly realized that three artifacts had inadvertently been raised, because two other cast iron artifacts (a smaller cauldron and a faceted kettle with a spout and handle) were carefully nested inside.

As the our conservators cleaned and conserved the three artifacts, certain details emerged. The smaller cauldron and the kettle both bear the maker’s mark “Noyes & Hutton” and the location “Troy, N.Y.” The small cauldron also bears the numeral “9,” and the kettle’s spout is cast in the form of a bird’s head. Archival research conducted in the New York State Archives indicates that this company was in operation for only a few years, from 1847-1852.

Historical research has determined that the Stove Boat is almost certainly the canal boatVergenneswhich sank in November 1853. The vessel was described as carrying a load of “merchandise”, a description which corresponds well with the cast iron goods on the vessel. The vessel registration for Vergennes describes it as a Scow of 60 tons, which accurately describes the Stove Boat.

The Stove Boat represents a class of Champlain canal boat that was archaeologically unknown until the 1998 field season. The vessel’s excellent state of preservation, its full cargo hold, and its advanced age make it a highly significant and fragile archaeological resource.

Information Sources :
Kane, A. and C. Sabick, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume IV: 1999 Results and Volume V: 2000 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2002.

Sabick, C., A. Lessman, and S. McLaughlin, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume II: 1997 Results and Volume III: 1998 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2000.