Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s New Stem to Stern Program Connects Forests and Waterways
As America prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Erie and Champlain Canals, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) is bringing together the themes of forest stewardship, woodcraft, boat building and waterways into new curriculum materials and school programs in an initiative known as “Stem to Stern.” “We are grateful to the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership (CVNHP) for a grant that supported the development of this
interactive and discovery-based curriculum in conjunction with the 2017 voyage of canal schooner Lois McClure,” said Elizabeth Lee, Education Director. “We are excited to weave together hands-on activities like seedling care and wood working, with conceptual exercises such as researching how local waterways were used for timber transport and milling lumber, and how the inland waterways shaped our nation.”
The CVNHP grant also supported evaluation of pilot programs, and creation of lesson plans that focus on interpreting human impact on waterways. “The mission of LCMM’s schooner Lois McClure is always to connect the history and archaeology of the Champlain Valley and the canals to the challenges we face today,” said Erick Tichonuk, LCMM Co-Executive Director, who is coordinator of the schooner’s four month tour. “The Canal Bicentennial has been helping all of us learn lessons from the building of the canal system that still resonate in today’s environment.”
In recognition and celebration of White Oak and White Pine, the principal tree species that have served as boat building timber in the Northeast for centuries, LCMM is integrating forest stewardship into these new school programs. LCMM worked with Vermont Family Forests, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at SUNY Syracuse, and the “Trees for Tribs” program of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. David Brynn and Sandra Murphy of Vermont Family Forests and AmeriCorps member Matt Harrison worked with LCMM educators to incorporate archival research into lesson plans about land use, boat building, forestry and the history of the timber industry. New standards-aligned materials are available for teachers and students for further study.
The curriculum and lesson plans developed with support from CVNHP are now being offered to students in grades 5 through 12 in New York and Vermont schools in the Champlain Valley, thanks to a grant from the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) through the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP). Activities weave together the role of trees in protecting soil and water, and the importance of trees to boat building. LCMM also hosted a tree planting at each school to connect the students with a wider reforestation initiative. Trees for Vermont schools came from Carl Phelps Miller Hill Farm Nursery & Gardens, Sudbury, VT, and trees for New York schools were provided by Trees For Tributaries (“Trees for Tribs”), a program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Participating schools were also invited to reserve a free visit to LCMM’s schooner Lois McClure while she is docked in the North Harbor.
Last Friday saw the culmination of three weeks of underwater archaeological work with students from the 2017 Nautical Archaeology Field School. I can’t overstate what a pleasure it was to work with Rich and Scott for the past few weeks. These two gentleman brought an impressive amount of dive capability and skill to our project and did so with an amazing attitude and a fantastic work ethic, despite the less than stellar conditions we endured both above and below water.
Rich and Scott worked with us to gain a better understanding of a shipwreck located right in Basin Harbor. While this vessel has been known to Basin Harbor Staff and LCMM divers for many years it has never been identified or studied in any great detail. The goal of the 2017 Field School was to rectify that situation. But, after three weeks of hard work and dozens of dives the wreck still remains something of a mystery.
By conducting selected excavation of portions of the wreck’s structure, we now have a much better idea of how it was built but that has failed to reveal the identity of the boat or even to clearly indicate what type of vessel the remains represent. This is a site of contradictions: we found handmade nails that suggest an early 19th century date. But we also found thread bolts that suggest a later 19th century date. We have located NO mast steps on the wreckage, which suggest maybe it was a steam boat, but we have found none of the engine bed timbers and sister keelsons that are typical of steamboat construction. Initial assumptions were that it probably represented another canal boat wreck on the lake due to its 90 foot length, but excavation across the wreck found that it is curved in section and that there was no chine log present, both facts that rule out the canal boat theory…
Frankly I’m a bit baffled.
But, as we continue to post process the data collected in 2017, I find that, in addition to being confused and maybe a little frustrated, the archaeological team is also more motivated than ever to continue to work on this site in the future and to finally answer the manifold questions that remain about this vessel and its origins.
So while I am still unclear on the identity of the wreck we worked, what I have no doubt about is my deep appreciation for the wonderful students that I had the opportunity to work with and for the amazing support for the project that came from many angles. Internally, Allyson and Jenny (the LCMM archaeological team) were fantastic colleagues to work with. Allyson arranged and coordinated the entire program from beginning to end and did so with an impressively positive attitude. Jenny insured that dive operations were carried out in a safe and efficient manner as well as bringing her extensive archaeological experience to bear on the questions raised during our field work. Bob Beach and the staff of the Basin Harbor Resort were incredibly welcoming and supported our efforts in every way possible. Penny Beach also stopped by the project nearly every day and always had words of encouragement and support for the crew. The staff at the Waterfront Dive Shop supplied us with equipment and tank fills over the course of the project, as well as letting Abigail visit the site and dive with us for a couple of days. Art Cohn shared his extensive knowledge on the legal complexities of shipwreck management with the students. And the LCMM staff made the students feel right at home on campus and assisted with our public presentation.
All in all it was another wonderful field school, and as usual it was the people and wrecks that made it such a great experience for everyone involved. Keep your eyes out for results of our continuing efforts to understand the Basin Harbor wreck and its story.
Courtesy of the South Lake Champlain Fund, at the mid-point of our field school, we went on a field trip to Whitehall to visit the ship remains of the USS Ticonderoga and the Fort Ticonderoga. At the USS Ticonderoga we gained perspective of our bits of wood in Basin Harbor and how they might relate to an entire shipwreck site. We could see the length of keelsons and sister keelsons and the potential of a robust ship-shape. We were regaled with stories of past successful LCMM field schools and chatted with locals about the summer tours of the Lois McClure. Later, when we walked into the center of the Fort Ticonderoga we looked at artifacts from the French, British, Native American, and American local histories.
I’d like to thank our participants Richard Hendren for his professional equipment-fix skills and photogrammetry savviness, Scott Baroody for his smooth diving skill and sharp observations, to our Coordinator Allyson Ropp for thinking through all the details and to Chris Sabick for his thorough insights and sense of humor.
As a recreational diver and history enthusiast, I was extremely excited to be given the opportunity to participate in this year’s LCMM field school at the Basin Harbor wreck site. Since I was a very young boy looking at pictures in National Geographic, I have always harbored a passion for history and shipwrecks. So being able to work on a wreck of a well-preserved wooden vessel in such a historically important waterway has been a real privilege.
In addition to fulfilling my personal interests, the program has provided me with an excellent introduction to the science of underwater archaeology. Coming to this setting from a pre-med background, I am used to collecting and analyzing data in a laboratory environment. Having to take scientific notes underwater was a definite first for me, in addition to being exposed to the methods used by underwater archaeologist to examine and interpret a site.
Following a few days of examining the condition of the site, setting a baseline and taking detailed measurements, today we finally began excavating. Using a suction dredge underwater did a take a little getting used to. Fortunately the dredge is far more awkward out of the water than in it, so within a very short period of time I got the hang of it. The dredging paid off as we began to find some artifacts almost immediately in addition to exposing new portions of the wreck which were extremely well preserved.
Unfortunately for the next dive team, an equipment malfunction drastically shortened their dive. The problem appears to be solved in time for the next excavation day thanks to my classmate’s skills with epoxy and fiberglass. A few minor technical obstacles and inclement weather have caused some difficulty during the first week of the project. However, the outlook for the days ahead looks extremely promising. Stay Tuned…