Friday, January 04, 2008


Silt, Mystery Surround Old Shipwreck

By Lynn Doan
January 04, 2008

While flying across the Connecticut River in July 2001, pilot Joseph Roberts spotted something just beneath the surface of the water that he'd never seen before: a symmetrical shape that turned out to be the remnants of a large ship. Crews traveled to the site to catch a glimpse of the sunken ship and possibly dig up the history behind it.

More than six years after the discovery drew State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, maritime historians, divers and others to the East Windsor site, local historians are still conflicted as to where the boat came from, what it carried and when it sank. Some believe the remains of the vessel, which was at least 22 feet wide and 77 feet long, were those of a passenger ferry that ran from Hartford to Springfield, and then to Holyoke.

"It was a packet boat, a side-wheeler," said George Butenkoff, a member of the East Windsor Historical Society. "We've just never been able to figure out what the name of it was."

But others believe the boat might have carried construction materials to towns along the river. Bellantoni said his team found large slabs of what appear to be brownstone at the site of the sinking.

"I thought it might be a schooner," he said. "Whether it was moving brownstone or another material, I don't know, but I remember there were large cubes or blocks of something there."

There was talk of excavating the boat, but by the time Bellantoni and his crew returned to the site a couple of summers ago, the remnants had disappeared beneath a layer of silt. And the team decided an excavation would be too costly, he said.

"We went back and didn't see a lot. It's probably still there, under all the silt," he said. "But I don't know if we'll ever really be able to establish what it was."

Roberts said he hasn't spotted the silhouette of the boat since his initial discovery six years ago. But he has something to remember it by.

"People brought me pieces of the dishes that were on the boat," he said. "They also brought me a [wheel] spike to it, as a sort of souvenir."


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