Part of historic steamboat recovered from Lake Champlain

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BURLINGTON, Vermont (WCAX) – Part of Lake Champlain’s history can be found on dry land after being underwater for over 200 years.

It is a piece of the Steamboat Phoenix from the early 1800s, one of the first steamboat wrecks in the United States. It is now under study at the Maritime Museum of Lake Champlain.

The ship caught fire in 1819 and was wrecked while drifting on the Colchester Shoal.

Researchers have known the remains of the hull for decades, but only recently began the process of recovering parts of the wreckage. The paddle wheels, originally believed to have burned down, were discovered about a year ago by Colchester explorer Gary Lefebvre.

And just three weeks ago, the Maritime Museum, in partnership with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and other researchers, undertook a mission to recover a driveshaft bearing block. This is about 125 pounds of cast iron and is believed to come from the end of the driveshaft where the actual impeller would turn.

Underwater video of a Steamboat Phoenix paddle wheel.(Courtesy: Gary Lefebvre)

Chris Sabick, director of research and archeology at the museum, says that despite being only a small part of the ship, they have already learned a lot and will learn a lot. “We initially thought that its position in the remains was related to the falling paddlewheels, and that could have moved that bearing and it had fallen to the bottom of the boat. But as we recovered it, we don’t think not that this is the case, we believe it was a part that had been previously broken and replaced. But the recovery of the object will tell us a lot about the design and construction of the paddle wheels as well as the the driveshaft that spun them and the machines that drive the paddle wheels, ”said Sabick.

The block itself will go through a preservation process and on display at the museum.

Researchers say it’s a long way, but they’re trying to find a foundry mark – the maker’s mark.

By next summer, they hope to produce a 3D model of the hull and paddle wheels.

Related story:

Historical discovery at the bottom of Lake Champlain

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