Historic Trading Ship Discovered After Mississippi River Levels Drop

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View from bow to stern of the Brookhill ferry wreckPhoto credit: Louisiana State Division of Archaeology

Shipwrecks evoke tragic stories, tall tales of imagination, and epic bravery in the face of death.  There are more shipwrecks in U.S. rivers, shores, and boundary waters than you would believe. The stories are legendary. They sank in battle, they burned and were buried in the silt, they were hit by massive storms, etc.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) database lists over 10,000 known wrecks off United States shores alone — and that’s not a complete list. A new wreck, the S.S. Brookhill, was just discovered on the banks of the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge. A resident of the area stumbled on it during a hike.

Enter Patrick Ford, Unlikely Shipwreck Hunter

Patrick Ford, a local hiker, often walks the shores of the Mississippi River. On October 2, 2022, he was hiking near where North Street intersects North River Road (downtown Baton Rouge) and came upon the remains of what he soon learned to be the S.S. Brookhill, a ferry that sank in 1915. These remains are now visible because of the ongoing drought in the Southeast.  Water levels have dropped significantly, and scour has done its work, revealing the river’s secrets. Ford contacted Chip McGimsey, Louisiana state archeologist, and they met to look at the boat.

news and tips, travel news, historic trading ship discovered after mississippi river levels drop

The wreck from abovePhoto credit: Forte and Tablada

The Brookhill – Reminiscent Of A Bygone Era In Transportation

The Brookhill was the latest in river transportation when it joined the Baton Rouge ferry fleet in 1896. Its role was to carry traffic across the river at night. The Brookhill’s sister ship, the Istrouma, was the day ferry. Both were moored at the city docks.

The Brookhill was designed to be a “bootjack” ferry.  The ship’s two wooden pontoons supported a deck, boiler, and paddlewheel that carried wagons, livestock, and people back and forth between Port Allen and Baton Rouge’s business district.

According to McGimsey, the deck, paddlewheel, and left pontoon were probably washed away by the river. The left pontoon settled in the mud of the Mississippi. Archaeologists last saw what remains of the Brookhill back in 1992, the last time the river was this low. McGimsey said the boat’s condition and lack of historical significance make it a poor candidate for preservation.

The U.S. Is Home To The World’s Most Valuable Shipwreck

Wrecked off the coast of the Florida Keys in 1622, the Spanish ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha is the most valuable shipwreck to ever be recovered to date. Currently holding a Guinness World Record for its recovered value (as it was carrying 40 tons of gold, silver, and 71 pounds of emeralds), the Atocha is located only 35 miles from the Florida Keys’ coast and is a continual treasure trove for divers and fortune hunters alike.

Check out these articles if you’d like more information about shipwrecks:

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