The wooden schooner Ironton was last seen on September 26, 1894 when rough waves and high winds took it down to the bottom of Lake Huron.
At the time it was being pulled by another ship and was largely responsible for the region’s wheat, coal, corn, lumber and iron ore industry. The ship in front had lost power and the Irontin broke off. The tragic event also took the lives of five crew members. “There’s two eyewitness accounts from the two sailors that survived and how they clung to wreckage for a few hours until they were picked up by another passing vessel,” said Stephanie Gandulla, resource protection coordinator with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The sanctuary announced on Wednesday the ship had finally been found. There were a number of teams that helped make the discovery. “The team that discovered this is made up from a team from New Hampshire, from Traverse City,” said Jeff Gray, superintendent of the sanctuary. “Dr. Ballard, the individual who found the Titanic, The Bismark, the PT-109–his team was part of this discovery. It reminds us how important these resources in our backyard are.”
The Irontin is still fairly intact, largely due to the significance of it being at the bottom of Lake Huron. “The cold fresh water of Lake Huron has left us with this magnificently preserved shipwreck,” Gray said. “It is literally a ship sitting on the bottom. It’s hard to call it a shipwreck because it’s so well preserved. The masts are still standing and it’s really amazing. It’s going to be amazing for archaeologists and historians to study but also for people to visit.”
The attention on northeast Michigan has been huge following this latest find, something the sanctuary loves when it comes to these discoveries. “They really put Alpena and northeast Michigan on the map,” said Gandulla. “People from all around the world, today and this week, are reading about the amazing shipwreck preservation we have here in the Great Lakes but also learning about the sanctuary and learning about the educational programs we have here and the researchers that are drawn to this area.”
With the finding of the Irontin, the number of discovered shipwrecks in Shipwreck Alley has risen to 100 with an estimated 100 more yet to be found.