Published December 11, 2013
HARRISVILLE, Mich. – The wreckage of a wooden steamer that sank during a storm in 1861 in Lake Huron has finally been found, according to a veteran Great Lakes shipwreck hunter.
David Trotter, 72, of Wayne County's Canton Township, said he found the wreck with his crew of explorers in July, the Detroit Free Press first reported. The zebra mussel-covered wreck was discovered in nearly 175 feet of water, 25-30 miles northeast of Harrisville.
The Keystone State was heading from Detroit to Milwaukee when it sank during a powerful November storm, claiming 33 lives. According to some historians, the ship might have sunk with its crew while secretly hauling Civil War supplies, the newspaper reported.
"She literally sailed into oblivion. Nobody heard anything from her," Trotter told Reuters in a telephone interview. "It's a great chance to touch history to swim back into time."
The ship, which typically transported immigrants to the west and cargo east, left in hurry on its last voyage with no lifeboats aboard, he added.
"That adds to the mystery of her leaving," Trotter told Reuters.
The nearly 300-foot-long ship was built in Buffalo, New York It had paddle wheels on its sides nearly 40 feet in diameter. The ship was among a class known as palace steamers, according to maritime historian, author and artist Robert McGreevy.
"The interiors were made to look like the finest hotels. They were quite beautiful inside," he said. "They had leaded glass windows and carved arches and mahogany trim."
Maritime historian C. Patrick Labadie said the wreck's discovery can shed light on ship construction methods of the era and how people once traveled.
"This one stands out," Labadie said. "It's a unique wreck."
Using a side-scan sonar device, Trotter and his team found the shipwreck the weekend after July 4. Crew members made 30 dives on the site from July through September. Divers shot video for DVDs that Trotter will sell online and use in presentations.
"The stern is kind of broken up and crumbled. The boilers are in good condition, the engine is in good condition," said diver Marty Lutz, 56, of Warren. "The wheels are both standing. ... It was pretty amazing to see those sitting upright on the bottom like that."
McGreevy told the Detroit Free Press that the only way to know what the Keystone State was carrying would be to conduct a search of the area believed to be its final route.
“I think it’s going to remain one of the mysteries of the Great Lakes,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.