129-year old shipwreck found intact in Lake Huron

129-year old shipwreck found intact in Lake Huron

Sat, 11/03/2023 - 15:02

The Ocean Exploration Trust, NOAA, and the state of Michigan have discovered an intact shipwreck from 1894 on the bottom of Lake Huron. Found hundreds of feet below the surface, the Ironton is surprisingly well-preserved and appears to be mostly intact.

In 1894, a schooner barge called Ironton collided with a Great Lakes freighter called Ohio and sank in Lake Huron's infamous "Shipwreck Alley,"  which lies in Lake Huron's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area known for its dangerous waters and run by NOAA.

The shipwreck, which is 191 feet (58 meters) long and has three masts, is still standing thanks to the icy freshwater of the Great Lakes, which has kept it in great shape for over a hundred years.

Schooner barges like Ironton were part of a fleet that helped transport wheat, coal, corn, lumber, and iron ore across the Great Lakes region, towed by steamers.

The Ironton originally departed from Ohio on Lake Eerie and headed for Marquette, Michigan being towed by the Charles J. Kershaw which also towed another schooner, Moonlight.  Unfortunately, on September 26th of 1894, the Kershaw stalled.

The weather was rough, and strong winds pushed the two schooners perilously close to the disabled steamer. Fearing a collision, Moonlight's crew cut Ironton's tow line, leaving the Ironton freely floating on Lake Huron.


The ship had sails but, they were apparently struggling in the wind. The crewmembers tried to steer the ship, but the wind blew them onto a head-on collision course with the Ohio carrying 1,000 tons of grain. The ships collided head-on.  According to the surviving crewmember William Wooley, it was too dark to spot the Ohio until it was too late, and Ironton struck the steamer with its starboard bow, tearing a 12-foot wide hole in Ohio's hull.

Ohio sank quickly, but its 16-member crew escaped in lifeboats and were rescued by nearby ships. Ironton's crew was less fortunate. While the Ohio sank immediately, the Ironton continued to drift away from nearby ships attempting to lend aid to crewmen trying to escape.

The crew of the Ironton drifted for over an hour as they tried to save the ship but, eventually, concluded that it was pointless and retreated to their lifeboats. Here's where it gets even more tragic. The line that tied the lifeboat to the ship was never untied.

As the Ironton sank beneath the surface, it took the lifeboat with it along with. Only two of the crewmembers survived.

Ironton rests hundreds of feet below the surface of Lake Huron with its three masts stiil standing and rigging attached. Photo: NOAA/ Undersea Vehicles Program UNCW

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