Summer of discovery: century-old boat wreck near Wellesley Island

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 2:10 PM EDT
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WELLESLEY ISLAND, New York (WWNY) - Summer is over, but one memory will last a long time for some seasonal residents of Wellesley Island.

Because the water has been lower this year in Lake of the Isles, summer resident Chuck Franklin extended his dock and began seeing things a few feet below the surface.

“This is where we saw the original outline and the cup,” he said.

The coffee cup was a curiosity, but the long sections of pipe - those could be a hazard.

“The fear was that the prop would hit it because of the water level and I didn’t want the prop to hit it, so we started by pulling the pipes up,” he said. “We thought it might have been a water pipe for when the the original camps that were here or the cottages that were here maybe used it for water coming out. No idea.”

More exploration revealed the frame of something, but it remained a mystery.

“The ribs looked flat so we weren’t thinking boat. I was thinking fishing shack that didn’t get taken off the lake soon enough,” said Arlene Franklin, Chuck’s wife.

Meanwhile, the exploration had caught the attention of neighbors.

“We could see them from the point kind of poking around. So, I snorkeled over and started poking around myself,” said Mary Kay Moore, neighbor.

Using a neighbor’s pickup, they began pulling long sections of whatever it was up onto shore.

“When we pulled it from out there to up there and the bow came out, we went, ‘Oh, it’s a boat,’” said Chuck.

It’s a boat that’s more than 30 feet long, but what kind? The Franklins called on Wellesley Island boat builder and restorer Tom Inglehart to help identify their discovery.

“It’s a launch built around 1910, we figure. Launches were smooth sided, round bilge boats, long decks, narrow, a very distinctive river boat,” said Inglehart.

To get a sense of what it may have looked like, we headed to the Bolt Yacht House. It has a much fancier boat of the same type.

“This, obviously, is a very luxurious model and our boat probably isn’t this. But it is a launch, it’s a round bottomed hull, this boat has ribs in it, just like our boat does,” said Inglehart.

In and around the wreck, the team recovered artifacts like tools, implements, equipment, fragments of other items, some of which help date the boat. There was also a piece of lantern.

“We carefully cleaned this off and found 1910,” said Inglehart.

A shattered keel and a bent rudder and strut suggest the boat hit a shoal, probably dooming the vessel. At some point later, the wreck was burned. The rest remains a mystery. But, one thing’s for sure.

“From when it was discovered to when we were able to pull it out, it made for an interesting month and a half,” said Chuck.

“Because it’s so much fun, trying to figure out what happened,” said Inglehart.

Prohibition rum-runner? Just a bad day for some boater a century ago? Something else? That part of the mystery endures - maybe something to explore next summer.

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