NMC Survey Looks for Origins of Beach Club Area Shipwreck

NMC Survey Looks For Origins Of Beach Club Area Shipwreck

The Homestead overlooks a section of Lake Michigan known as an archeological hotbed of maritime history. Over the centuries, hundreds of ships were lost in the treacherous waters of the Manitou Passage. Many still lie undiscovered under the shifting beach sands of beaches the lake’s bottom.

The ancient remains of one mysterious vessel recently surfaced on the beach at The Homestead. The find prompted a crew from NMC’s Nautical Society Program to visit The Resort to document the wreck and perhaps reveal its origin. Read on to find out what they found.

[source: thehomesteadresort.com]

While walking on the beach just south of the Beach Club in April of 2014, resort resident Ward Lamphere came across the remains of a shipwreck believed to be from the mid-1800s. Over the next few weeks and months, The Homestead welcomed to the property news crews, visitors and researchers who wanted to see the amazing artifact, which was immediately recognized and protected as part of the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve.

Click here to read the story featured on The Homestead’s blog.

One Of Sleeping Bear’s Biggest Wrecks

Among the researchers was a survey crew from NMC’s Nautical Society Program led by Kara McDonald, then a student from NMC’s Anthropology Department.

McDonald was interested in documenting the wreckage after the story of Lamphere’s 2014 discovery led to an even earlier report of the ship remains being found by an 11-year-old girl five years prior.

According to the 2009 article in the Leelanau Enterprise (click here to read it), the Northville girl and her family were summer guests at The Homestead that year. While digging in the sand by the waterline, she discovered a piece of wood and called to her family to help dig up more. Together, they unearthed eight ribs and two underlying beams of the vessel. (McDonald and her team would later find that, in fact, the remains of the wreck measured 40 feet long with 12-foot rib sections, making it one of the largest of 13 currently on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore database.)

According to the Leelanau Enterprise, at least one local historian who learned of the find in 2009 believed the remains belong to the W.B. Phelps, a 3-mastered schooner lost during a storm one mile from shore in Sleeping Bear Bay in November 1879. The ship supposedly went down carrying wheat and 600 cases of beer.

While the Phelps story seemed plausible, it was far from definitive. No more effort was made to excavate the full extent of the wreck before wind-driven sands and water currents covered it up again.

Preserving The Mystery

Flash forward to 2014. McDonald and her team knew that it was only a matter of time until the wreck—whatever its origin—was covered up again by sand or, worse, destroyed. Relentless Lake Michigan waves and ever-shifting sands have been known to move and totally dismantle wrecks over time. Then there was the ever-present threat posed by human tampering, despite the fact that it’s illegal to disturbing any shipwreck within the boundaries of the Lakeshore.

The key aim for McDonald and her team was to complete a 2-D survey of the vessel so that it could be preserved historically. That much of the team’s mission was accomplished. Unfortunately, what remains of the ship was not enough to lead to any definitive answer on how it ended up where it did.

“Unfortunately,” concluded McDonald, “we were unable to positively confirm exactly what wreck this piece originated from. It will join the countless other unnamed wreck pieces that have been documented but unclaimed.”

Click here to read Kara McDonald’s full report.

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