Researchers discover remains of 2 century-old shipwrecks in Lake Huron

Believed to be remains of Ohio and Choctaw

A pilot house is clearly visible at the bow of Ohio. The positioning of the pilot house is typical of early bulk freighters. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan College/Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

PRESQUE ISLE, Mich. - Two shipwrecks researchers discovered in Lake Huron in May have been identified.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, investigations revealed that researchers believe the remains are those of wood steamer Ohio and steel-hulled steamer Choctaw.

Researchers from NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab and the University of Delaware discovered shipwrecks on May 23. They were found while researchers were covering 94 square miles of unexplored lake floor.

Clay covers the bow section of Choctaw, which is buried and not visible. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan College/Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

An autonomous underwater vehicle Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center and a remotely operated vehicle from Northwest Michigan College were used to further investigate the sites to identify the vessels.

The Ohio sank on Sept. 26, 1894, when it collided with the schooner Ironton when it broke free from Kershaw, which was towing it. The Ironton also sank and has not been located.

Ohio was carrying 1,000 tons of flour at the time of the wreck.

Ohio was built in 1873 by Huron, Ohio resident, J. F. Squires. The ship was 202 feet long, 35 feet in beam and weighed 1,101 gross tons.

The stern of the wooden bulk carrier thought to be Ohio was the first feature seen during ROV operations in August 2017. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan College/Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

Choctaw sank on July 12, 1915. It was traveling off Presque Isle with a cargo of coal in dense fog when a Canadian Steamship Co. freighter, the Wahcondah, hit the ship.

Choctaw sank in seven minutes, but all of the ship’s crew was rescued, NOAA said.

The ship was no stranger to mishaps before it sank for good.

The vessel also sank in 1896 when it collided with another ship and partially sank in 1902 when it struck a rock. An engine explosion in 1893 aboard the ship killed two crew members, and it grounded in 1900.

Choctaw was 266.9 feet long, with a beam of 38.1 feet and a 17.9-foot depth of hold. The ship weighed 1,573 gross tons, with a capacity of 3,050 tons. It had a 900-horsepower triple expansion engine and two Scotch boilers, NOAA said.

Choctaw’s rudder and propeller. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan College/Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

Researchers searched for the ship in 2008 and 2011. While its remains were unsuccessfully located then, the remains of several other vessels were found.

Exploration continues to answer additional questions, such as where the Ironton is. According to NOAA, the ship sank quickly, and thus the remains should be near the Ohio. However, explorations haven’t found the ship near the vessel's remains.

For more information about the exploration and research efforts, visit the NOAA website here.

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