By Archaeology Intern, Emily Cunningham
Summer is just around the corner, and what better way to beat the heat than a trip to Kelleys Island? A short ferry ride from Marblehead and just under one hour from the famous Put-In-Bay, Kelleys Island in Lake Erie offers a wide range of family friendly activities. With lots of water excursions like kayak trips, reserves, and restaurants, something that TripAdvisor doesn’t mention are the shipwrecks scattered throughout the lake bottom. Even though Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes, it is home to the largest number of shipwrecks – nearly 2,000! Almost 50 of those shipwrecks are located near Kelleys Island. Three family friendly sites to snorkel or scuba dive include the W.R. Hanna, The Adventure, and F.H. Prince. The W.R. Hanna and the Adventure reside near each other just off the north coast of Long Point in North Bay. The F.H. Prince can be spotted on the east side of the island. And remember: Lake Erie is split between Canada and the United States, so remember to be mindful adventurers.
Built in 1857 in Sandusky, Ohio, by William R. Hanna, the W.R. Hanna was driven to the shore of Kelleys Island by a gale force storm on October 14, 1886. The violent storm left the schooner in pieces, but thankfully no loss of lives was reported. The W.R. Hanna carried limestone blocks, and it is thought the ship was headed for Detroit, Michigan. Though some of the wreck site is covered by these stones, elements of the ship are still visible The wreck is on the northern side of Kelleys Island at 41 39.030 N, 82 41.060 W.
The Adventure was constructed in the same year as the W.R. Hanna: 1875. Built in Detroit, Michigan, by John Oades, it was rebuilt in 1897 in Sandusky, Ohio, by Henry D. Root for J. M. Robinson and Fredrick Groch. The best time to catch the Adventure is on a clear summer day, preferably with some time between the last rainstorm and your visit; lower water levels will allow best visibility of the schooner – it lies a mere 5-7 feet below the surface of the water. A popular site for snorkelers in the summer, guests will have the chance to see fish species such as smallmouth bass, rock bass, sunfish, the invasive species round goby, common carp, white sucker, and the occasional yellow perch. Use caution when exploring the Adventure; zebra and quagga mussels inhabit the exterior of the haul which can cause mild to severe cuts.
The W.R. Hanna and the Adventure are great snorkeling sites for families. Their close proximity allows scuba divers and snorkelers to visit both wrecks from one anchor location.
Constructed 15 years after the W.R. Hanna and the Adventure, the F.H. Prince set sail in 1890, but caught fire on August 8, 1911. The simmering ship was neglected due to arguments between Captain H.H. Parson, crew, and the owners of the steamer, and so the ship caught fire again on August 14. No lives were reported lost, however the second fire dubbed the steamer unsalvageable. Located about a half mile off the shore of the east side of Kelleys Island at 41 36.240 N, 82 40.520 W, the steamer sits beneath 16-18 feet of water. However, depending on weather conditions and water levels, the boiler can be seen around 4 feet under the surface. Snorkelers will be able to see anywhere between 1-2 feet to 15-18 feet deep depending on algae blooms and other lake conditions. Zebra and quagga mussels cover the outside of the F.H. Prince, so be sure to use caution when diving or snorkeling this site. Divers should visit Ohio Sea Grant for more information on scuba diving the wreck.
Interested in learning more about these three sites? All three wrecks are heading to the National Register to be considered as significant historic sites, so check out their nomination forms as soon as they are available.
Caution: Please use caution when snorkeling and dive only if scuba certified.
Get bundled up and head out to one of these Ohio History Connection sites this winter to get out of the house and get a new perspective on our state’s incredible natural history.