Wreckage from a steamboat that caught fire and sank exactly 201 years ago has reportedly been spotted at the bottom of a Vermont lake.
The Steamboat Phoenix sank on September 4, 1819 on Lake Champlain. There were more than 40 passengers and crew members onboard at 11 p.m. when the fire started.
Passengers who were unable to board lifeboats as the steamboat caught fire were forced to jump into the water and cling to debris or swim for their lives to shore. In the end, six people died.
According to the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (VDHP) and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, the paddlewheels fell off the boat as the flames spread to support beams, sinking to the bottom of the lake. The hull of the ship continued to burn and drifted toward shore, where it sits underwater on the reef.
The paddlewheels were located recently, with the help of an area diver, Gary Lefebvre. Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle underwater, Lefebvre shot video of unusual wreckage. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum identified the wreckage as likely from the Steamboat Phoenix based on evidence of charring and its location.
A second underwater trip with the ROV found the second paddlewheel.
“The Phoenix is one of the earliest known steamboat wrecks in the United States, and the discovery of the well-preserved paddlewheel structures adds to the significance of this nationally significant Underwater Preserve,” said Scott Dillon, Senior Historic Preservation Review Coordinator for the Division for Historic Preservation, in a statement.
They say the Steamboat Phoenix was the second commercial steamboat on Lake Champlain. It was built for passenger service and had separate cabins for gentlemen and ladies, a “saloon” beneath the stairs, a barber shop, smoking lounge, luggage compartment, galley, and pantry.
Lake Champlain is America’s 6th largest lake, and runs along the border of Vermont and New York, and stretches into Canada.