Belfast is home to the fastest possible shipwreck ever. In 1856, the 1,100-ton Haulco was built and launched. Four hours after leaving its homeport, after lowering its pilot and proceeding under its own sail, Haulco destroyed at Saddleback Ledge in Penobscot Bay. This is a total loss.
But what about the other shipwrecks associated with Belfast? As a shipbuilding town, it makes sense that Belfast would be the repository or last resting place of ships at the end of their lives, tired or exhausted, considered no longer worthy of the sea. This is true for many ships. If you take a good look at the townâs coastline, especially at low tide, there are the remains of some formerly working watercraft.
Many were damaged for scrap. Others were simply deposited on the beach, left to rot. Abandoned in the elements, they were stripped and scattered by anyone interested. Lumber and timber were slowly falling, steel utensils were rusting, and pieces of vessel were scattered by wind, storm, rising water and ice.
Examining historical photos and current remains of wrecks around Belfast reveals an interesting variety of vessels. Most unidentified, unnamed pieces of history that once were yeomanâs duty to haul wood, granite, brick, coal, potatoes, ice, eggs, chicken, fish, manure, or other Maine products and products. .
The fact that none of these vehicles have been identified is positively intriguing to me. Not only are they nameless, but there is really little recorded information or evidence about them, such as what type of vessels they were, their dimensions, what was used on them, their ages or their fate. . For any of them! That’s not right.
I recently completed an online course in Intertidal Archeology Theory by the Nautical Archeology Society of England (nauticalarchaeologysociety.org). It was very interesting, and I found out that not all shipwrecks are under water; many are found in the intertidal region and coast. And some are even further there.
The course made me think about the intertidal wrecks around Belfast; most are accessible when low tide, although you need to prepare and plan your visit accordingly. Since then I have almost been able to catalog at least seven different locations of shipwrecks on both sides of Belfast Harbor, anywhere from the Boathouse to just up the Passagassawakeag River. There are no doubt many more, and I look forward to hearing from others to supplement this growing database of information. Hereâs a quick tour of the seven remnants of destruction around town.
At least three shipwrecks can still be seen from the footbridge when low tide. I refer to them as wrecks A, B and C. More helpfully, they appear in late 19th century photos as abandoned and derelict hulks. These three are close to each other, all hidden in the harbor facing the east side of the old bridge, which is now the cityâs footbridge. It seemed a convenient nearby, but out-of-the-way location to leave them. Soon the elements broke them. Now, if you look closely, especially at extreme low tide, you might get a glimpse of the rest of them.
A derelict wreck, located on the upper east side of the footbridge, was captured in an aerial photograph taken by Belfast native and balloonist Capt. Albert W. Stevens. In 1922, he returned to his hometown and made a documented ascent to the city. An expert in aerial photography, he took pictures all over town.
One of his photos covers an entire wall with Capt. Albert W. Stevens School in Belfast. The photo clearly shows an abandoned ship sitting almost where the Veterans Memorial Bridge now connects the eastern part of Belfast. So far, no visible remains for this unknown vehicle. I still want to thoroughly explore the area but I think, the construction of the bridge will probably have lost most of the rest to the devastation.
A Belfast shipwreck was used as part of the townâs harbor, near the boatâs current launch. It was a fertilizer barge, one of possibly three known, owned by the Rockland and Rockport Fertilizer Company. No one remembered its existence under the landing, until it was later found while digging a sewer line. Another remnant barge, which may have been a sister-ship, was located just off Route 1A in Frankfort, in the tall grass along the coast where granite slabs were once loaded.
Another remains of a ship were found along the Belfast coast near what is now the Boathouse and Common. Again, some timber can be identified during extreme low tide. No other information or identification was found about this vessel or its use, age, or fate.
Belfastâs most complete shipwreck is located farther on the Passagassawakeag River compared to others near the footbridge or Belfast Harbor. It stands just off Robbins Road, right next to the beach.
Over the past 10 years, Belfast Area High School students in archeology or marine studies classes have traveled to this devastation to further study, survey and evaluate the ship. Their shipwreck archeology projects have helped measure and catalog the remains and area in general, as well as providing a long-term photographic record of the destruction over time.
The Belfast Historical Society and Museum has long been working to ascertain more about these wrecks around Belfast. At one point, it was thought that the Robbins Road ship may have been a former schooner used as a barge, such as the one under the city harbor or the one in Frankfort. It is possible.
What are you looking for to help with dating or determining shipwreck? Ideally, the shipâs name emblazoned on a piece of wood or written on the shipâs bell would be fantastic. But remember, these vessels are well stripped after years of hard use before they are abandoned with the elements. And because they are damaged over time, not much is left. So, you need to look for other clues.
An indicator can detect marks on timber, frames and knees. Rotary or circular saws from recent times produce unique marks or patterns than the previously used two-year hand saw. Perhaps the indications of a hand-held adze in its dating may help. The lack of fastening steels may also indicate age, although the use of treenails instead of steels or brass spikes may be due to economy. Hand-forged steel hardware is probably older than machine-produced. But, again the fact these ships are stripped before leaving can affect any of these indicators.
The proximity of the knees or ribs in relation to each other may be a possible indicator of use. If they are closer together, that may indicate heavier cargo being carried, such as granite or an ice-powered vessel, but again this is just a piece of information while compiling your thesis.
Having historical evidence certainly helps to back up the remnants of the devastation. Photographs, newspaper accounts, letters and other documentation can help to determine, if not the name of the vessel, what it may have used or when it went to its seat. Meanwhile, we continue to observe, measure, research and theorize. How good is that ?!
Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is the author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available on Historypress.com.
Courier-Gazette letters to editor No. 4