Hudson River Schooner Wreck
Twenty-seven years ago, the remains of two Hudson River schooners were identified at a remote dock where they were abandoned in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Historic photographs of the schooners from 1914 and 1918 were located offering detailed information about their layout and rig. The New York State Division for Historic Preservation and Grossman and Associates Archaeology digitally recorded the more intact of the two hull bottoms producing photographs and a plan drawing. An article describing this project and summarizing the historic context of Hudson River sloops and schooners appeared in Sea History No. 77, Spring, 1996.
The Hudson River was New York’s “Main Street” for at least 200 years and sloops and schooners were the principle vehicles of its commerce. Even after the Age of Steam dawned in 1807, these boats continued to evolve and improve through the introduction of centerboards, greater carrying capacity and changes in working equipment. The last generation of these boats soldiered on until the end of the nineteenth century carrying bulk freights such as iron ore, sand and bricks. Their graceful movements and white sails were often captured by the artists of the Hudson River School and nostalgia for these quiet, powerful and non-polluting boats led to the construction of the Clearwater, a modified replica of a mid-nineteenth century example, launched in 1969.
Since this effort, more has been learned about the Hudson’s sloops and schooners. Intact examples with preserved decks, bowsprits, and in some cases deck cargos have been discovered well below the river’s surface through remote sensing technologies and diver surveys. Nevertheless, the schooners studied in 1993 revealed important details about the framing and configuration of these regionally significant boats not available in the sparse written record. We observed that the centerboards were placed on one or the other side of the keel so as not to weaken the backbone of these boats. To counteract the added weight on one side, we found that the mainmast of one was stepped off center on the opposite side. We also found evidence in the more intact hull of added frames and riders used ostensibly to reinforce an aging hull for continuing service. There was some evidence to suggest that the more intact hull was built as a single-masted sloop and later re-rigged with two masts as a schooner at a time when this was done to reduce crews in the face of rising labor costs.
Carla Lesh, Collections Manager and Digital Archivist of the Hudson River Maritime Museum and I visited the site at low tide several days ago. Ice and debris have demolished the more lightly framed of the two schooners but the one that was carefully recorded thankfully remains much as it did in 1993. The site is located on public land and protected under state and federal statute. Should you encounter this or other historic wreck sites, please refrain from disturbing them in any way. They are important touchstones of our maritime heritage and can still answer questions about our past that cannot be answered in the written record.
Mark Peckham is a trustee of the Hudson River Maritime Museum and a retiree from the New York State Division for Historic Preservation.
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