Lake George, the “Queen of American Lakes,” is enjoyed by everyone of all ages for its fishing, boating, and swimming. However, emerged far below the depths of the surface, lies something quite haunting, yet amazingly wondrous…underwater shipwrecks! These Historic Shipwrecks (including those from the French and Indian War) as well as other submerged archaeological resources, are preserved and marked for divers to observe through the NY Dec’s Submerged Heritage Preserves Program. These underwater historic sites, marked by buoys and signage, provide divers access to first hand explorations in this “underwater museum.” The following include four wrecks that have been accounted for, preserved, and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Land Tourtoise – 1758 Floating Gun Battery
The Land Tourtoise, one of two radeau, was built as a floating gun battery by the British in 1758, to remove the French from Lake George and Lake Champlain during the French and Indian War. This 52 foot long, seven-gun, 26-oar gunboat is North America’s oldest intact warship – it has been on the bottom of Lake George for more than 200 years. It was deliberately sunk in l00 feet of water in Lake George by British forces on October 22, 1758 to protect it over the winter from French raiders. Unfortunately, the Land Tourtoise settled into deeper water and could not be surfaced the following spring. Therefore, the British had to build another radeau. Because this 7-sided floating gun battery is the only surviving example of the Radeau class of vessels, the shipwreck is considered to be one of the nation’s most historic sites. In 1995, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bateaux Below, a local underwater archaeological team that works to preserve Lake George historic shipwrecks, made an award-winning documentary called “The Lost Radeau: North America’s Oldest Intact Warship,” based on their discovery of the Land Tourtoise.
The Sunken Fleet of 1758
Of the 260 bateaux (a type of warship with flat bottoms, flaring sides, propelled by oars and poles, and) submerged in Lake George during the French and Indian War, a group of eight existing 1758 bateaux are known as “The Sunken Fleet of 1758,” or as the “Wiawaka Bateaux Cluster.” Seven of the eight bateaux, ranging from 25 to 36 feet long, are of the original vessels. The eight bateaux is actually a replica built by school children and teachers, and submerged with the other bateaux in 1997. This was done for two reasons: to enhance the pre-existing site for divers, and to study certain tests including the process and techniques of Colonial sinking and to study the deterioration process. In 1992, the Sunken Fleet was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Cadet, a 48-foot wooden century-old steamboat built in 1893, was discovered off the shore of Bolton in about 50 feet of water. It has been entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and is one of only three vessels of that kind that are known to be in existence today.
The Forward/ The Forward Underwater Classroom
The Forward, a motor launch shipwreck constructed in 1906, was one of the earliest gasoline-powered vessels on Lake George and used as a commercial tour boat. This 45 foot long wooden vessel sank in the 1930’s east of Diamond Island for reasons unknown. In 2008, is was placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The Forward is now known as “The Forward Underwater Classroom,” since its 1997-1998 addition of several stations which were created for divers to understand and learn about the lake’s ecology. These additional stations include vegetation and geology signage, a zebra mussel monitoring station, a fish observation zone, a simulated underwater archeology site, and more.
For more information on underwater historic sites, visit: www.dec.ny.gov/lands/315.html