A team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state of Michigan, and the Ocean Exploration Trust have found and explored the wreck of the Ironton, confirming tragic reports of the ship's demise.
The Ironton, a three-masted wooden schooner that transported goods through the Great Lakes, sank in September, 1894. The larger steamer ship Charles J. Kershaw, which dragged other ships along with it, was sailing across Lake Huron on September 26 when one of its engines failed. To avoid potential collisions with the ship adrift, the crew cut ties to the Ironton and other smaller barges.
The crew attempted to get control of the ship, using the steam engine and sails, but ended up veering into the path of another ship.
"At this time we sighted a steamer on our starboard bow," a surviving crew member of the Ironton, William Wooley, told local news after his rescue. "She came up across our bow and we struck her on the quarter about aft of the boiler house. A light was lowered over our bow and we saw a hole in our port bow and our stem splintered."
The Ironton had hit the steamer ship Ohio. Both ships would sink, with all of the crew of the Ohio reaching lifeboats quickly. But nearby ships involved in the rescue effort lost track of the badly-damaged Ironton as it drifted away.
The crew of the Ironton got in their own lifeboat, but didn't notice that the boat was still secured by a rope to the sinking ship. Sure enough, over a century later, researchers exploring the wreckage of the Ironton found that lifeboat, still lashed to the ship that sank it.
Two of the crew – Wooley and William Parry – were able to cling to debris from the wreckage, and were spotted and rescued by a the steamer Charles Hebard. Five other crew members, including Captain Peter Girard, died at sea.
Researchers mapped the lake bed in 2017 and found the Ohio, but the Ironton was nowhere to be seen. Another project in 2019 expanded the search area, and located the ship on sonar.
Since then, the ship has been filmed and photographed up close, and confirmed as the wreckage of the Ironton.
"The discovery illustrates how we can use the past to create a better future," Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary superintendent, said in a statement. "Using this cutting-edge technology, we have not only located a pristine shipwreck lost for over a century, we are also learning more about one of our nation's most important natural resources – the Great Lakes. This research will help protect Lake Huron and its rich history."