Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Drought conditions drop Mississippi River waters, exposing 19th-century shipwreck

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BATON ROUGE - In downtown Baton Rouge, extremely low water levels reveal what's left of an early 20th-century ship that was destroyed in a wreck.

Local resident Patrick Ford was down by the riverfront for one of his daily scavenges for artifacts, but what he came across — the shipwrecked remains of the Brookhill exposed above the water — was more than what he expected to find.

"I immediately texted friends and was like, 'holy moly, I think I found a ship, a sunken ship!'" he said.

Ford was amazed by what he came across. He said he had been observing receding waters for weeks prior, but when he made his rounds last Sunday, more exposure of the river's banks brought deeper findings of what had been stored in the sediment. 

Shortly afterward, Ford reached out to experts looking for further explanation.

That's when Chip McGimsey, the state's archaeologist and director of the archaeology division, stepped in. McGimsey says they've known about the Brookhill shipwreck for quite some time. 

"We believe this is a ship that was manufactured in 1896 in Indiana for trade here," he explained.

It was several years later when the Brookhill and its sister ship, the Istrouma, faced devastation. 

“On September 29th of 1915, there was a big storm… both ships sank,” McGimsey said.

While Istrouma broke from the ferry dock, Brookhill stayed grounded, but much of the boat was taken out by logs that crashed onto it. 

Years later, investigations began on the wreck.

“In 1992, it was exposed, an archeological firm did some work. At that time, it was not nearly as exposed as it is now,” McGimsey said.

With shockingly-low water levels, McGimsey says 90% of the half of the hull that's left is now exposed, and he explains what they plan to do next and why it's important. 

“For the most part, there are not good documents on boat building, especially when you get back into the area of wooden boats,” he explained. “They have a lot of individuality in these boats, and there are so few of them remaining. This is a rare example of one from around 1900.” 

McGimsey says they'll build on reports that were filed back in the '90s, which show basic renderings of what they believe the ship's build looked like. 

Both McGimsey and Ford say that in addition to discovering more about legacy ships, it's shedding more light on a piece of Baton Rouge history.

“Explore your surroundings, get to know where you live and what's around, beyond just what's in front of you… take a walk, see what's out there,” Ford said.


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