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The Reconstruction of the Lake Champlain Sidewheel Steamer Champlain II

Elizabeth Robinson Baldwin
Thesis: May 1997
Chair: Hocker
Nautical Archaeology Program


The steamship Champlain II, ex-Oakes Ames, was built as a railroad car transfer ferry in 1868 at Marks Bay, Burlington, Vermont in the private shipyard of Napoleon B. Proctor. The vessel was later converted to a passenger line boat in 1873, but was in service only a few years before she was dramatically wrecked on the night of July 16, 1875.

Champlain II holds an important place in the development of steamships on Lake Champlain. This thesis examines the historical and economic background of Champlain II, ex-Oakes Ames. Attention is paid to the original construction of Oakes Ames and includes a discussion of the railroad car ferry as a specific vessel type. The narrative includes a detailed corporate and financial history of the vessel's owners, the Rutland Railroad, the Delaware and Hudson Company and the Champlain Transportation Company, and chronicles the changes in Oakes Ames' ownership and her subsequent refit as a passenger line boat. Particular attention is paid to the details of the wreck and the folklore that grew surrounding the event.

The thesis also includes a narrative of the two-year archaeological study of the vessel, undertaken in the summers of 1993 and 1994, which involved full documentation of the dimensions of the hull timbers by divers. The findings of the archaeological recording are presented in detail and discussed as part of the overall architecture of the hull.

The archaeological data and archival materials on 19th-century wooden steamship construction were combined to create a reconstruction of the Champlain II, ex-Oakes Ames. The reconstruction is graphically depicted in this thesis by lines, construction and propulsion plans of the vessel. The vessel is them compared to other archaeologically examined steamboat wrecks of Lake Champlain.

Analysis of Champlain II's hull construction and comparison between it and contemporary vessels has led to the conclusion that Champlain II, although built for non-passenger, cross-lake traffic, had framing and longitudinal support systems that were quite typical for Lake Champlain passenger line steamers of the period.

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