Nearly 120-year-old shipwreck discovered in Lake Erie

Margaret Olwill June 29, 1899. (Photo: Great Lakes Vessels Index/Bowling Green State University)
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Margaret Olwill June 29, 1899. (Photo: Great Lakes Vessels Index/Bowling Green State University)

In 1899, a terrible nor'easter whipped Lake Erie, tossing the Margaret Olwill, a steam barge carrying 900 tons of limestone, until it capsized and sunk.

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Nine people on board died, including the captain, his wife and their son. Seven survivors clung to wreckage until they were rescued, according to the Great Lakes Vessels Online Index.

"She was probably not overloaded," the Marine Review wrote July 6, 1899. "Her load of stone was shifted to one side by the great power of the waves dashing over her. She went over, the stone shifted with her, and she never came back."

The Cleveland Underwater Explorers dive team discovered the wreckage last July, and after documenting it, officials with the National Museum of the Great Lakes announced the find Thursday, according to Rock the Lake.

The ship was built in 1887, rebuilt in 1890 as a propeller vessel and again in 1893 as a steambarge, according to Rock the Lake.

Divers found some of the deck house framing posts, the ship's 14-foot stem, steel windlass and two anchor chains, according to Rock the Lake.

Museum officials also said two other ships, which have not been identified, were found, according to Rock the Lake. Divers use underwater technology like sidescan sonar, as well as historical research, to identify wreckage.

"Often, it can take years from the initial discovery of a potential underwater target to confirmation that the target in question is a shipwreck, to identifying a particular shipwreck as a specific named boat that was lost," a museum spokesperson told Rock the Lake.

There are an estimated 2,000 shipwrecks in Lake Erie. About 375 of them have been discovered.