Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
As the fifth passenger steamboat to operate on Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York State, Phoenix II, built in 1820, was once known as the fastest boat in the world. Traveling between St. Jean-sur-Richelieu in Québec, and Whitehall, New York, for seventeen years, the sidewheel steamer’s career was colored with a variety of events, including carrying the first fatal case of cholera into the United States in 1832. In 1837, the old and worn out wooden hull was retired to Shelburne Shipyard, where it was scuttled in the shallow harbor. An archaeological investigation of the hull from 2014 to 2016 revealed that only the very bottom of the hull remained intact, but what was left was in a good state of preservation and could tell much about how the vessel was constructed. Excavation of key components of the hull, including the bow, five frame sections, the stern and the rudder, allowed archaeologists to reconstruct how the boat was built, and interpret what it might have looked like despite the lack of iconographic evidence. The archaeology revealed that the hull was built much more robustly than what was necessary for an inland body of water like Lake Champlain. Its reconstruction shows that the tubby steamboat was much more simply designed than later passenger steamers, and indicates that shipwrights had not yet realized the full potential of hull design as a method of increasing overall speed.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):