New England Preservation: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Vermont Underwater Historic Preserve

By Carla Charter

Lake Champlain is a lake with many nautical stories to tell. The story of its maritime history and it’s  shipwrecks are told at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and the Vermont Historic Shipwreck Preserve, in Vergennes, Vermont.

The Lake Vermont Underwater Historic  Preserve, which was the first of its kind in the United States, was created by the state of Vermont working with Art Cohn the founder and first director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. There are more than 300 shipwrecks in Lake Champlain and 10 which are part of the preserve, nine of which are in Vermont and one of which is in New York.

“Many of these wrecks were lost in storms or in accidents with other ships. Some ships closer to the shorelines were at the end of the useful life and sunk intentionally,” according to Chris Sabick, Archaeological Director, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The basis of two the wrecks, the O.J. Walker and the General Butler, Sabick continued, were used to build a replica sailing canal boat the Lois McClure.  The wrecks are also great fish attractors. They are a great place to see a lot of wildlife,” he added.

The preserves shipwrecks are marked with a ball mooring held in place with a cement block anchor A diver follows the mooring to the anchor where another guideline leads them directly to the wreck.   “This way no one gets lost and they can find the wreck. It also prevents divers from accidentally hooking the wreck with their own anchor which could damage the wreck. The preserve system is safer for diver and for the shipwrecks,” according to Sabick.

It is not required that divers register to visit the preserves wreck sites although it is encouraged. By registering the Preserve is given an idea of how many divers are visiting the wrecks, data which better helps the preserve when they are applying for future grants, “said Sabick.

“The wrecks at the preserve require a varying level of diving skills. We encourage people to dive within their limitations,” he continued. The website offers wreck specific safety recommendations.

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has displays on Champlain’s nautical history dating from Native American times to current maritime history.   On display are artifacts from the preserve’s wrecks which have been removed by the Museum, to share with non-divers. The museum in conjunction with the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning N.Y. will have a special exhibit this summer featuring archeological glass found on wreck sites. The museum also has information on blacksmithing and offers blacksmithing courses.

The Museum holds an annual Underwater Archaeology Field School. This year the school will be looking at a wreck in Basin Harbor. “We looked at the wreck last year and we could not figure out what it is so we are going back this year,” Sabick said.

More information on the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum can be found at More information about the Vermont Underwater Historic Preserve can be found