Skip to main content

19th-century shipwreck found in Lake Erie

DEC. 5 -- A dive team has discovered a 137-year-old shipwreck off Cleveland at the bottom of Lake Erie.

In July a dive team with Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE), using side-scan sonar, found a wreck in about 60 feet of water it believed to be the Cortland, a 173-foot three-masted bark that sank 137 years ago, a news report says. The team made a series of dives to examine the remains, and were recently able to verify that it is indeed the Cortland.

“It’s probably the most historically significant wreck in the Cleveland area,” CLUE member Kevin Magee says in the report.

On June 20, 1868, Cortland and another ship, the steamer Morning Star, were traveling off Lorain, Ohio. Cortland, carrying iron ore, was heading toward Cleveland from the west, while Morning Star, which set off from Cleveland, was bound for Detroit.

At about midnight, a crewman aboard Cortland was ordered to take down and clean the ship’s green oil lantern. After 20 minutes, the lantern had not been replaced and another crewman saw Morning Star heading directly for Cortland. He rang the ship’s bell as a warning but it was too late. The ships collided and both sank, killing 38 people.

This spring, members of the Peachman Lake Erie Research Center hope to remove artifacts from the wreck, including the ship’s bell, and display them at the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion, Ohio, according to the report.

— Jason Fell