Explorers find wreck of 19th-century steamship in Seneca Lake - New York News

Explorers find wreck of 19th-century steamship in Seneca Lake, N.Y.

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This pre-1895 photo provided by the Geneva Historical Society shows the Civil War-era paddle-wheel steamship on Seneca Lake approaching the Onondaga dock in Geneva, N.Y. (Photo from Geneva Historical Society via AP) This pre-1895 photo provided by the Geneva Historical Society shows the Civil War-era paddle-wheel steamship on Seneca Lake approaching the Onondaga dock in Geneva, N.Y. (Photo from Geneva Historical Society via AP)
This August 7, 2012 side scan sonar image shows the outline of the hull of the steamship the Onondaga on the bottom of Seneca Lake, eight miles south of Geneva, N.Y. (Photo by Jim Kennard via AP) This August 7, 2012 side scan sonar image shows the outline of the hull of the steamship the Onondaga on the bottom of Seneca Lake, eight miles south of Geneva, N.Y. (Photo by Jim Kennard via AP)

The wreck of a Civil War-era steamship that was intentionally blown up on one of New York's Finger Lakes more than a century ago has been found, two Rochester area engineers-turned-explorers said Tuesday.

Jim Kennard, of Perinton, and Roger Pawlowski, of Gates, said they confirmed last week that the wreckage at the bottom of Seneca Lake is that of the Onondaga, a 175-foot paddle-wheeler that hauled freight and passengers.

In September 1898, the 38-year-old ship had outlived its usefulness and its owners decided to blow it up as a public spectacle. An estimated 5,000 people lined the shore as the stripped-down hull was scuttled with the explosion of 500 pounds of dynamite and 300 pounds of blasting powder.

Kennard said the wreck lies in 400 feet of water in the middle of the lake off Kashong Point, on the western shore eight miles south of Geneva.

He and Pawlowski, a former Air Force pilot, were searching for wrecks in Seneca Lake in 2010 when their sonar equipment caught a faint image of a shipwreck. They returned to the lake last week and used high-resolution side-scan sonar to get a better image of it. Kennard said the equipment accurately measured the length as about 175 feet long and 27 feet wide, the same dimensions as the Onondaga.

The surrounding debris field indicates the ship met a violent end, Kennard said. The paddle wheel and machinery had been removed from the vessel beforehand, he said.

"That boat really just flew apart in all directions," he told The Associated Press.

Kennard said the Onondaga was one of the largest steamships operating anywhere in the United States during the Civil War, when it was used to transport Union troops down the lake to Watkins Glen on their way to Elmira and points south.

The ship was taken out of service in 1895, Kennard said, and when it was decided three years later to scrap it, someone had the idea to emulate the destruction of the USS Maine, the battleship that blew up in Havana's harbor under mysterious circumstances earlier in 1898 and inflamed public sentiment against Spain during the Spanish-American War.

The public spectacle of a ship explosion drew visitors from across western and central New York, as well as neighboring Pennsylvania, to Seneca Lake on Sept. 14, 1898. According to witness accounts, the blast produced a mushroom cloud that obscured the ship, and when the smoke dissipated, the vessel was gone.

Kennard, a retired Eastman Kodak engineer, has been searching for shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and elsewhere since the 1970s. His more recent finds include several wrecks in Lake Ontario, including the discovery in 2008 of the HMS Ontario, a British warship that vanished in 1780 with about 130 people aboard.

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