3.20.2006

From the Depths of Lake George

Lake Champlain may have Champ the lake monster, but Lake George has it’s own one-of-a-kind creature resting deep beneath the surface of the water: the mighty Land Tortoise. The nearly 250 year-old Land Tortoise is no elusive beast, but is America's oldest shipwreck, resting quietly in 107 feet of water and remarkably intact. A relic of the French and Indian war, the Land Tortoise is only remaining vessel of its kind, a radeau, or floating gun battery.

The image of a shipwreck in the popular imagination is usually of a scooner of pirate vintage crashed against craggy rocks, or maybe a grand luxury liner. Usually the shipwrecks of our imagination are sent to the depths of the sea unexpectedly. Rarely are lakes the setting for the grand naval battles of our imagination, but inland waterways like Lake George played crucial strategic roles in the battle for control of the colonies. This particular ship was not struck down by enemy fire, but was intentionally sunk by the British forces to store it over the winter, fearing that it would be captured or destroyed by the forces of the French and their Native American allies. Sunk along with numerous boats and one other radeau, the Land Tortoise was filled with rocks, but did not sink immediately: it drifted and finally sunk in the night, and thus was not raised the following spring.* The Land Tortoise went unnoticed in the depths of Lake George for over 200 years.

In 1990, a group of divers using a sophisticated side-scan sonar, located the intact radeau. While the ship was never
fully outfitted with gear (it was being deliberately sunk, after all) the unique seven sided structure has been dubbed "America's Oldest Intact Warship" and is now a National Historic Landmark as well as a New York State Submerged Heritage Preserve.

The combined effort of three local organizations, a documentary about the history, discovery, and preservation of the Land Tortoise was released this past November. The Lost Radeau: North America's Oldest Intact Warship has already garnered several awards.* Thanks to reader Dawn T. Whitesel, wife of documentary co-writer and animater J.R. Whitesel for bringing to our attention this fascinating artifact of New York and national history and the important work of York Staters today to preserve and publicize the illuminating pieces of our heritage below the surface.

* The Land Tortoise was replaced by the much more fearsome sounding radeau, the Invincible.
* The DVD is available here, and though it's a bit on the expensive side, a portion of the proceeds goes to preserving and protecting the ship.

Sources:
"Giant Land Tortoise, the last of its kind, rediscovered in New York"
Website of "The Lost Radeau"
The Lake George Historical Association
Press release at New York State Divers Association

Posted by Natalie

1 comment:

D. Duncan said...

Most Interesting, pity your DVD isn't available outside the USA. Greetings from Sunny Scotland, D. Duncan