Cape shipwreck may date back to early 20th century

Thursday, October 11, 2012
John Grammer perches on a rock above and exposed shipwreck Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 along the Mississippi River. The low water level has exposed the wreck along the banks. (Laura Simon)

A sunken boat recently discovered by a local couple after being long covered by muddy waters may be an early 20th-century barge that carried coal or other goods.

James Phillips, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Crisp Museum at Southeast Missouri State University, has a background in archaeology and has volunteered to help the boat's discoverers, Amy and Russell Grammer, along with a local overseer of the project, retired teacher and shipwreck salvage diver Randy Barnhouse. Together, they have applied for permits to study the site.

Amy Grammer spotted the wreckage during a walk along the river in September. It is mostly buried apart from a 30-foot-long section in a location that is not being disclosed for safety reasons.

Barnhouse said Phillips' initial observations included that the boat is likely a barge from around 1920 that may have been used in conjunction with paddle wheel boats. Phillips surveyed the construction of the boat and the manufacturing process of the nails used to hold wooden sections together to get an estimate of the boat's age.

Phillips said Wednesday that the barge is likely empty, but a small sample that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will allow under his supervision should give a better idea. The DNR has granted permission for a core sample to be taken from the wreckage since the site could be covered by water before the entire permit process is completed, according to Barnhouse. The visible sections of the boat are also in the beginning stages decomposition due to exposure to sunlight and air.

Low water on the river this year caused by drought has left the waterline around 8 feet from the wreckage. Barnhouse and the Grammers are hopeful an archaeological survey of the boat that includes local students can be completed before the water rises.

"This is probably not a huge historical find, but it is important and interesting," Barnhouse said. "I think it could teach us about river travel at that time like we don't often get to learn about it."

Phillips said the boat should be left in its present location because moving it could cause damage and finding a permanent place to store it would not be easy.

The wreckage is located on city property. Barnhouse plans to approach city staff this week for obtaining a work permit so excavation work can proceed once additional permits are obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the DNR.


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