Syracuse, N.Y. -- Once one of the finest tugs on the state Barge Canal, the Stillwater met an inglorious end in 1940 in Onondaga Lake.
The 60-foot, steam-powered tug spent that harsh winter moored at the old Syracuse Barge Terminal, now known as the Syracuse Inner Harbor. Ice formed around the vessel, and when the ice melted, it pulled away caulking from between the tug’s wooden planks. Water rushed in.
Declaring the sunken Stillwater a menace to navigation, the state raised the boat, stripped it of any valuables, towed it to Onondaga Lake and sank it. And that’s where it sits today.
It’s not alone. A recent archaeological study of the lake’s murky bottom — the first one conducted — has revealed a wealth of other boat wrecks and historic shoreline infrastructure that hearken back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Onondaga Lake played an important commercial role as part of the state canal system and a recreational role as home to numerous resorts.
The study, conducted for Honeywell International Inc. as it prepares to begin dredging the lake of industrial contaminants, used sonar and a magnetometer to scan the lake bottom for wooden or metal objects.
The scans pinpointed the location of eight definite boat wrecks, including the Stillwater, nine other likely boat wrecks and an Air National Guard fighter jet that crashed into Onondaga Lake in 1955, killing its pilot.
Researchers believe many of the submerged boats are the remains of vessels that hauled salt, coal and other cargo on the state’s canal system in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some are in shallow water close to shore and are visible in aerial photographs.
The locations of 20 submerged docks, piers, footings, navigational aids and pipelines also are documented, for the first time, in the study. Many are the only remaining traces of the seven resorts that dotted the western and southern shores of Onondaga Lake until the 1930s. Industrial pollution in the water and the emergence of the automobile, which gave Syracusans easier access to more distant vacation sites, were blamed for the resorts’ demise.
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