Two Rochester-area men think they’ve found a treasured bit of Erie Canal history lying in the mucky silt at the bottom of the Oswego River.
A 78-foot Erie Canal boat, barely six inches of it visible, was discovered by veteran underwater divers and explorers James Kennard, 67, of Fairport, and Roger Pawlowski, 62, of Gates. They used a high-resolution side scan sonar device to find what they believe is the oldest Erie Canal boat to be discovered.
Kennard said the length of the boat is key; canal boats were built longer as years went on. He has found about 30 canal boat wrecks in state canals and in the Finger Lakes, all “as big as 98 feet long. We had never seen one this short before.”
Kennard and Pawlowski learned canal boats in the 78-foot size were common from 1830 to 1850, placing this discovery in that period. “So this appears to be the oldest canal boat found yet,” Kennard said.
The men became involved in this quest a few years ago, when some people with the Oswego Maritime Foundation told them they were “curious about what’s in the Oswego River.” “We thought about it and figured we’d get around to it sometime,” Kennard said.
When they finally started exploring the river’s bottom, in October, they weren’t sure what they would find. “We had a few wrecks marked on a map, but we didn’t know for sure what was there,” he said.
They searched the bottom of the Oswego River “from Onondaga Lake all the way to Lake Ontario,” Kennard said. “We found another canal boat and a smaller boat, but they were pretty much buried with silt over the years.”
But south of Fulton, they found the 78-foot boat. They could see its outline, the tiller on the back and what looks like the remnants of a stove. It is down about 30 feet. Kennard’s theory is the boat was tied along the Oneida, Seneca or Oswego rivers at one point and broke loose.