Archaeologists believe recently discovered shipwreck may be 150-year-old vessel ‘Lake Serpent’

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- There is an underwater picture of a shipwreck under 43 feet of Lake Erie water, and archaeologists think it could be the wreck of the Lake Serpent, a merchant ship that disappeared somewhere in the lake while carrying stone from the Lake Erie islands to Cleveland.

"If it is the Lake Serpent it will be the oldest discovered lake vessel yet, which will tell us something about that early shipping and ship build period that we don't know yet."

Carrie Sowden of the National Museum of the Great Lakes has been part of a team that has been diving on the wreck this summer.  They've made about seven trips to the site so far, but conditions 43 feet under Lake Erie are extremely poor, because what may be a nice day on the surface is a tough day under water.

"Today is beautiful and breezy and that's the problem for us, its the breeze, we're looking for less than 10 knots of wind hopefully two feet or less of waves," Sowden said, "The other big challenge is our visibility is terrible. A good day might be four or five feet of visibility and once we start digging the visibility goes to nothing."

However, dive crews have managed to press on cataloging the site foot-by-foot and using hoses to clear away 150+ years worth of silt and zebra mussels.

But, they don't know for sure if it is the Lake Serpent. Even if it isn't, this ship is still a find that could teach archaeologists and historians more about life on the great lakes and where this inland sea of sorts helped build a young America.

"The iron, the steel, the stone, the wheat, you name it, we're settling the area and we're shipping a lot of it east," Sowden said, "All of that is being shipped at least on the 1820's and 30's on small vessels like the Lake Serpent."

Sowden says what could prove thier finding are things like the way the timbers of the ship were put together. She says the size and shape of the vessel can show the time period that the ship was built. They are also hoping to find the ships distinctive mast head, a carved wooden serpent.