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No plan to salvage century-old shipwreck found in Mississippi River, experts say

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BATON ROUGE - A ship that sank into the Mississippi River more than 100 years ago and has now resurfaced after drought conditions caused water levels to dwindle in the waterway likely won't be around for much longer.

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Officials with Louisiana's Division of Archaeology said Monday that there's currently no plan to salvage what's left of the Brookhill — a ferry that was put into service back in 1895 — meaning it will disappear again once the river rises back to its normal levels.

"This was your everyday work boat on the Mississippi River," State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey told 2une In's Brandi B. Harris. 

Though the shipwreck has become a local spectacle, even making national headlines over the past week, officials said there just isn't enough historical significance to merit recovering it.

"It would be very expensive to do so... You would literally have to dismantle her piece-by-piece, and then it would have to undergo conservation, which would take two or three years," McGimsey explained. "Then you'd have to find a museum that has a hundred-foot-long space."

Experts say the boat sank at its dock in 1915 after a hurricane hit the Baton Rouge area, and it spent more than a century below the river's surface. Since it was uncovered, scores of people have been gathering at the water's edge, trying to get a closer look.

While historians can't justify spending the money it would take to preserve the ship, McGimsey said he and other experts will keep studying the exposed wreckage while they can. 

"We're working on doing a lot of measurements and drawings so that we'll be able to say exactly how she was put, and we'll have that historical record," McGimsey said. "Because the next time she becomes exposed, she may not actually still exist."

And though the ship itself has been deemed unworthy of preservation, McGimsey said passersby should capitalize on their chance to get an up-close look at history. 

"History is something that either you read about in a book and you see pictures or go to a museum... This is a piece of history that everyone can touch," McGimsey said. "Even though it's not a special boat, it's a special opportunity."

According to McGimsey, archaeologists are looking for another sunken ferry in the Mississippi River, the Princess, which went down about five miles south of Baton Rouge in the 1850s. Newspapers at the time suggested hundreds of people were killed after the ship's boiler exploded.

Though traces of the Princess' wreckage were detected by sonar in the 1990s, McGimsey said they have yet to find whatever's left of the boat.

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