Saturday, August 20, 2005


McClure Isn't Only Watercraft Offering Glimpse Into Past


August 15, 2005

Underwater Vessel Can Be Reached By Champlain Divers
LAKE CHAMPLAIN, Vt. -- The Lois McClure was built as floating history museum to show what life and travel were like on the lake a century ago.

The lake freighter Lois McClure is due to dock Tuesday in New York City. The 88-foot replica of the 19th century vessels that used to carry cargo on Lake Champlain has been on a goodwill tour of the Champlain Valley and the Hudson River all summer.

The McClure has been offering thousands of visitors a glimpse into the 19th century vessels that carried consumer goods and raw materials into and out of the Champlain Valley.

The boat was built on the Burlington waterfront by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum of Ferrisburgh.

The McClure is being moved by a vintage tugboat.

For the adventurous, there's another museum that not only captures that era, but also when Lake Champlain was a battleground in the making of our nation.

Most never get to visit because it's at the bottom of the lake.

For those who can, there's a new addition.

Archaeologists said this latest addition to the state's underwater preserve tells an important story --- even though it's name and the family that owned it remain a mystery.

"We call it the Sloop Island Canal Boat because we don't know the name of the boat," said Adam Kane, a nautical archaeologist with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. "It's sitting in 85 feet of deep dark water, if you imagine this canal barge is so big that if you stood it on end, it would stand out of the water 10 feet."

Still filled with the load of coal it was hauling, there's little mystery how the barge met its fate that night it sank in 1915, just north of Sloop Island.

"It sprung a plank and just literally sank out from underneath its owners, who lived on board," said Kane.

They escaped with their lives but lost everything they owned -- much of it discovered by divers in the ship's cabin.

"We've got all those artifacts we can study how those people lived, which we don't know much about".

From the captain's fragile wool coat to housewares, divers found hundreds of artifacts that tell the story of life on the lake.

"With these you get that perfect synopsis of this family, their lifestyle and then the tragic loss of their boat and home," said Kane.

For divers, it's a glimpse into another era of the lake's history.

"It's just an incredible opportunity because the boat is entirely intact," said Kane. "You are turning back the clock, you're transported back in time."

The Sloop Island Canal barge is just off the island, north of the Charlotte Ferry dock.
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