Civil War-era steamship wreck found in Lake Ontario

When it sank on November 4, 1862, the steamer was headed to Cleveland and Toledo

By Brooks Hays

FAIR HAVEN, N.Y., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- When the S.S. Bay State was christened in 1852, in Buffalo, N.Y., it was the longest propeller driven steamship operating on the Great Lakes. Just a decade later, it sank.

Today, thanks to explorers Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski, it's the oldest propeller driven steamship discovered in Lake Ontario.


The two Rochester-based shipwreck experts located the Bay State in August, off the coast of Fair Haven, N.Y., using a high-resolution side scan sonar system. Having come to rest at a depth too dangerous for scuba divers, the explorers had to send down a remote controlled submersible to scope out the wreckage.

The S.S. Bay State measured 137 feet long and boasted two decks and a single mast. When it sank on November 4, 1862, the steamer was headed to Cleveland and Toledo, loaded with general cargo. The Bay State was owned by Chamberlain & Crawford, a shipping company based in Cleveland.

Between 16 and 18 people died in the wreck. Pawlowski and Kennard, whose work is supported by the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio, said in a statement that exact records of the ship's crew were not kept.


The discovery didn't come easily -- or cheaply. Pawlowski and Kennard's $54,000 robotic submarine was lost when it got snagged on a piece of the wreckage.

The Great Lakes have hosted their fair share of shipwrecks. It's estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 ships have sunk in the Great Lakes, about 600 in Lake Ontario. Most have been hauled out, but at least 200 remain in Lake Ontario.

The Bay State won't be hauled out; it will remain undisturbed. Because it sank in New York waters, the wreckage belongs to the state.

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