Minnesota's Historic Shipwrecks
Beneath Minnesota Waters
Minnesota's Submerged Cultural Resources Preservation Plan

State Historic Preservation Office
Minnesota Historical Society
June 1997

Funding for this project was approved by the Minnesota Legislature,
ML 1995, Chapter 220, Sec. 19, Subd. 12(f),
as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources,
from the Minnesota Futures Resources Fund

Prepared by:
Summit Envirosolutions©, Inc.
Braun Intertec

Written by:
Mitchell W. Marken, Ph.D.
Amy Ollendorf, Ph.D.
Pat Nunnally, Ph.D.
Scott Anfinson, Ph.D.


The Need for a Plan
Legislative Overview
Pre-contact and Contact Periods Site Background
Preservation Issues for Pre-contact and Contact Periods Sites
Post-contact Period Sites Background
Preservation Issues for Post-contact Period Sites
Other Issues Concerning Submerged Resources
Agency Responsibilities
Public Comment on the Plan


Minnesota, blessed with over 15,000 lakes, and headwaters to the mighty Mississippi River, has a rich and colorful history hidden by the waters of time. Water, the lifeblood of survival, and a highway for travel, has had a magnetic attraction for people since the beginning. Our fascination for the world beneath the water drove pioneer diver Jacques Cousteau and Emil Gagnan in their quest to develop a self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) in the 1940's allowing us the freedom to enter a once restricted world. The advent of scuba diving created a multitude of adventurous activities, and increased the boundaries of science beyond our shores. As exploration of our lakes, rivers, and oceans grew, a previously hidden part of history began to present itself to the terrestrial world. Shipwrecks and remnants of sunken civilizations were now no longer a part of legend and dreams, they were within reach of science, the general public, and treasure seekers alike. As historical sites, shipwrecks are an archaeologist's dream: a closed context, disturbed only by the effects of nature, with an instant frozen in time. To the sport diver, they are the epitome of aquatic adventure and exploration, and to the treasure seeker, they are repositories of unclaimed fortunes, guarded only by the depth of the water, free to anyone that has the good fortune to find them.

Needless to say, differing perspectives on submerged sites have led to a considerable amount of discussion, and necessitated the creation of national legislation in an attempt to mediate the often conflicting desires of the "academic" community, the diving public and the treasure hunters. But like many problems of today, there is no clear cut way to satisfy the needs of everyone involved. There are however, a few common grounds that all agree upon: 1) Shipwrecks and submerged sites are slowly but surely deteriorating. 2) Shipwrecks and submerged archaeological sites are valuable sources of historical information. 3) Diving on a shipwreck is one of the most exciting diving experiences there is. 4) As a whole, we want to preserve and protect these resources for future generations.

Minnesota is rich in underwater cultural resources, in both Lake Superior and its inland lakes and rivers. In vessels ranging from canoes to ore carriers, people have moved across Minnesota's waters for over a hundred centuries. Because of misfortune, or by design, some of these historic watercraft have been relegated to the bottoms of lakes and rivers or imbedded in our shorelines. Many of the shipwrecks in Lake Superior have been identified, but few have been scientifically investigated. Although the most notoriously treacherous of the Great Lakes, Superior is estimated to be the resting place of only 350 of the perhaps 10,000 shipwrecks thought to be contained in the Great Lakes region. Wrecks thought to be located within Minnesota waters of Lake Superior number around 50. Many wrecks have been located, yet at least half still lay undiscovered. Lake Minnetonka is also the site of several wrecks, including scuttled streetcar boats. Within the shore zones on many of the state's waterbodies, are hidden the remains of prehistoric settlements, fur posts, and historic harbors.


Minnesota is not alone in its need to figure out how to manage these resources. In response to the concerns expressed by both the interested public and the archaeological community, Congress passed the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-298) which effectively gave control of submerged cultural resources to the individual states. It then became each state's responsibility to protect, manage, and preserve their own submerged cultural resources. Several states have simply applied existing state law to underwater sites, while others have passed new laws (see Wisconsin's in Appendix E) and started interactive programs to enrich these resources. In response to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Minnesota Historical Society requested and received funding from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) in 1989 to study shipwrecks of the state and to develop a baseline management plan for all submerged cultural resources within the state. The LCMR has generously funded three SHPO-sponsored biennial shipwreck initiatives over the last 10 years.

Developing a plan is the third step in the process the Minnesota SHPO has taken to manage its submerged cultural resources. The first phase consisted of attempting, through systematic field survey and historical research, to develop an inventory of submerged sites. This process is ongoing. Another source of information used to develop this inventory was incorporation of public knowledge, such as from the local sport diving community. The result was a listing of wrecks, and other shoreline sites that lay beneath the waters of the state, or imbedded in its shorezone. The second phase consisted of the evaluation of the known sites for their historical importance, and the listing of eligible sites in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Following the first two phases, this management plan is intended to address the present and future needs of submerged sites, and create a framework for the discovery and treatment of new resources. How to protect the sites from deterioration from natural causes, inadvertent destruction from development, and from vandalism are issues of major concern. Of equal importance is to attempt to ascertain how to extract the information from the sites to give us a better idea of who we are today, and how to involve the people of the state in utilizing the resources to the benefit of all.

The plan is presented as follows: A legislative overview is presented giving a summary of existing legislation governing archaeological properties, followed by a brief overview of the state's Pre-Contact history, including possible site types that may be discovered in the future, and preservation issues. An overview of the more recent historic era is presented, in relation to corresponding contexts developed by the state, and a description of the types of activities that may produce submerged sites. Because Lake Superior has been the main focus of previous investigations, and many sites are known, the plan addresses current preservation issues for all documented shipwreck sites that are considered significant. Also incorporated, are the preliminary results of a recent inland lakes and river study, including an overview of the documentary search and NRHP recommendations for sites identified in the field. In addition to issues related to known sites, other general topics are discussed and the SHPO's current views concerning them. The final section describes the public notification process used to elicit comments from the diving public.


There are many laws that govern the management, preservation and interpretation of historic properties in the United States. The most recent law written specifically for submerged cultural resources, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-298), effectively gives control to individual states for the management of sites on their bottomlands (see Appendix C). In the Act the federal government asserts ownership to all abandoned shipwrecks in U.S. waters, but then transfers title to the individual states. In order to come under the jurisdiction of the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act a vessel must truly be abandoned and it must be embedded in submerged lands or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The definition of "abandoned" has caused the most legal difficulty. The Act also directs states to develop policies that: 1) protect natural resources and habitat areas, 2) guarantee recreational access to shipwrecks, and 3) allow for appropriate recovery of shipwrecks consistent with historical values. States are encouraged to establish underwater parks and develop management plans.

In addition to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, the state of Minnesota operates under other federal and state legislation. The most comprehensive law pertaining to the protection of cultural resources is the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, which created the State Historic Preservation Offices in each state and expanded the National Register of Historic Places. The law sets forth guidelines when federal agencies conduct projects, and established the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation as a third party allowed to comment on projects. Other federal laws that govern these and other cultural resources are the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

The state has also enacted legislation which pertains to cultural resources, including the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act (Minn. Stat. 138.31 - 138.42) which requires licenses to engage in archaeology on public land, and establishes state ownership of sites on non-federal public lands (see Appendix A); the Minnesota Historic Sites Act (Minn. Stat. 138.661 - 138.6691) which established the State Historic Sites network and the State Register of Historic Places; and the Minnesota Historic District Act (Minn. Stat. 138.71 - 138.75) which designates certain historic districts and enables local governments to create commissions to provide archaeological control in their jurisdictions. The Minnesota Private Cemeteries Act (Minn. Stat. 307.08) is also applicable to some shipwreck sites in that the law protects all human burials or skeletal remains on public or private land or waters (Appendix B).

Several other Minnesota laws and judicial rulings have applicability to underwater cultural resources. In the 1954 State v. Bollenbach (241 Minn. 103, 115-16, 63 N.W.2d 278,286) it was established that the state owns the soil under the state's navigable bodies of water. According to the Minnesota Attorney Generals Office, this ownership extends to the average low water level. The state has clear regulatory powers between the average high and average low water levels, but ownership of this area is unclear. Lost Property on State Land (Minn. Stat. 16B.25) is placed under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Administration. Counties have jurisdiction over water areas within their boundaries (Minn. Stat. 1.03).

For many years, there has been a feeling of "exemption" for submerged sites from existing legislation which technically covers all sites on public lands. The SHPO has attempted to create workable guidelines for professionally examining shipwrecks, and other submerged sites, (Appendix D) and also allow public participation while preserving the historical value of the resources. If the laws were followed to the letter, acts such as taking a "souvenir" from a wreck dive, or grabbing a piece of a beached wreck on public land for firewood would be crimes against the state. Because strict enforcement is not feasible, and the majority of these "crimes" are committed through ignorance, it is hoped that awareness and education can instill a preservation ethic among the would-be offenders.


Known and Possible Site Types

Our understanding of events and people in the Pre-Contact Period (9500 B.C. - A.D. 1650) is tied in many ways to the environmental history of the region. It is believed that humans have only inhabited the North American mid-continent for just over 10,000 years. Since the northward retreat of the last glaciers, Minnesota's human and environmental histories have been intertwined.

The first humans thought to inhabit Minnesota are referred to by archaeologists as the "Paleoindians." These people likely entered North America across the land-bridge connecting Alaska and Siberia during a period of low sea level caused by the formation of the vast continental ice sheets during the most recent ice age. Their way of life included big game hunting of now extinct animals (e.g., mammoths, giant sloths, etc.), small game hunting, and wild plant gathering. During this time most of the state was covered by a coniferous forest except where large lakes had formed due to the melting glaciers. In Minnesota, we know of the Paleoindians by occasional finds of stone tools and even less frequent finds of human skeletal remains.

Because only Native Americans occupied this landscape, the Paleoindian Tradition marks the beginning of the Pre-Contact Period. This tradition merged into the Archaic Tradition around 7,000 B.C. which then lasted to about 500 B.C. During the early Archaic, temperatures were sufficiently warm to allow for the development of a mixed deciduous forest and then the prairie. The border separating these two ecological communities, known to paleoecologists as "the prairie-forest boundary," waxed and waned over the centuries creating opportunities for small bands of people to hunt and gather from a variety of ecological niches. Like the Paleoindians, we only know about the Archaic people from scant archaeological finds. Diagnostic artifacts consist primarily of stone projectile points, although copper tools and fishing implements also characterize the Archaic.

The Woodland Tradition began in Minnesota around 500 B.C. Recognition of this tradition by archaeologists is based on the appearance of ceramics at archaeological sites. Subdivisions of the Woodland Tradition, are by and large based upon the plethora of ceramic styles (e.g., Fox Lake, Havana-related, Malmo, Laurel, Brainerd, St. Croix, Lake Benton, Kathio, Blackduck, and Psinomani). During the Woodland period , mound building also began, usually for the practice of burial. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continued to be the main ways of life, although cultivation of native seed plants such as sunflower and marsh-elder gradually gained in importance during the Woodland. The Woodland Tradition appears to have survived largely intact in northern Minnesota until the intrusion of Euro-Americans in the mid-1600s.

By around A.D. 900, cultivation of native and introduced plants (e.g., maize) became important along with permanent villages and a number of new artifact types (e.g., hoes) were developed in support of the new ways of life. These new developments mark the beginning of the Plains Village Tradition and the Mississippian Tradition. The Plains Village Tradition is a western Minnesota cultural development that is identified on the basis of evidence for a heavy reliance on bison and maize. The Plains Village Tradition lasted until about A.D. 1300.

Evidence for the Mississippian Tradition is most prevalent in the southeast part of the state but also extends northward and westward. The national type localities for the Mississippian Tradition are much further south and east (e.g., Cahokia in southern Illinois), but shell-tempered, globular ceramic vessels, and a partial reliance on maize also characterize the northern extension of the Mississippian Tradition. A major Minnesota variant of the Mississippian Tradition is referred to by archaeologists as "Oneota" which appears to represent in part the ancestors of today's Siouan speaking peoples in the Upper Midwest (e.g., Ioway, Dakota).

By about A.D. 1650, the Woodland and Mississippian traditions had ended with the influx of early Europeans (e.g., French fur traders and missionaries) into the region. This phenomenon marks the end of the Pre-Contact Period and the beginning of the Contact Period. Throughout the Contact Period, interactions among a number of Native American ethnic groups (e.g., Chiwere Siouan language group, Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota, and Ojibwe), Europeans (e.g., French and British), and later Americans (a conglomeration of people of European, African, and Asian descent) occurred. Furs, beads, and liquor are only some examples of trade goods that passed between Native Americans and the first Europeans.

The Contact Period lasted until around 1837 when Native Americans were forcibly divided into communities and put onto reservations while Euro-American settlement expanded and new ways of life (i.e., lumbering and intensive agriculture) overtook the region.

Site Expectations

Submerged sites are highly probable, although silty lake and river bottoms have lessened the possibility of chance discoveries, and made the sites difficult for archaeologists to find. Chance finds, however, do occur, and they may be associated with archaeological sites. One example of such a find is a water-worn stone tool, submerged long enough for the wave and current action to leave their marks. Petroglyphs (prehistoric rock art) were frequently produced on rock faces accessible only by canoe or boat, of which some are now submerged because of dam construction or naturally changing lake levels. The North Shore of Lake Superior has witnessed extreme level fluctuations over the last 10,000 years. A report made by a sport diver of submerged "stone igloos or rings" near Grand Portage may be an early Indian lodge.

Animal kill sites have been found underwater in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For instance, bison bones were found in situ (in their original place) by a boy swimming in a Minnesota lake with an arrowhead imbedded in one of the bones. In Wisconsin, a mammoth or mastodon kill site was identified in a drained wetland, as well as a Pre-Contact fishing weir. Rooted tree stumps have been discovered in Duluth Harbor which evidence ancient shorelines.

Finds of Pre-Contact or Contact vessels such as dugout canoes and flat-bottom ricing boats have also been found in Minnesota lakes. For instance, several dugouts have been found in or near Lake Minnetonka and some at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Aitkin County. The remains of a birch bark canoe and paddles were found during underwater excavations at the Fort Charlotte site in northeastern Minnesota (Wheeler et al. 1975). More substantial vessels associated with early Euro-American exploration or commercial activities may also be found in Minnesota waters, especially in Lake Superior and the lower Mississippi River.

The influx of Euroamericans into Minnesota dramatically altered the prehistoric people's (Native American) lifeways with conflict and coexistence marking this chapter in Minnesota's history. French forts with aboriginal components have been found in Minnesota at several locations. An archaeological investigation at Fort St. Charles on Magnusson Island in Lake of the Woods yielded a Native American site contemporary with the French fort (1731-1750s). The Native American component is partially inundated because of the Kenora Dam in Ontario. Near the terminus of Grand Portage, more than 14,000 artifacts associated with Fort Charlotte and earlier Native Americans were recovered during an archaeological investigation of the bottom of the Pigeon River (Wheeler et al. 1975).

Other than isolated finds, much Pre-Contact or Contact material has been identified or recovered as part of modern land-use activities (e.g., dam drawdowns and flooding) or cultural resources investigations of more recent sites. A plethora of submerged Pre-Contact sites are thought to exist in northern lakes as well as the major rivers, sites thought to have been inundated as a result of flooding by dam installations. For instance, major lakes such as Lake Winnibigoshish, Knife Lake, Leech Lake, Cass Lake, Whitefish Lake, Red Lake, and Gull Lake have been greatly affected by the construction of dams, whereas the channels of the Crow Wing, Mississippi, and Minnesota rivers have been greatly modified by the construction of dam installations. A number of reservoir lakes have also been created northwest of Duluth where hundreds of Pre-Contact sites were flooded. There has been at least one report of a person looting a submerged burial site at Lake Winnibigoshish. In addition, Pikes Fort south of Little Falls, Minnesota, has been greatly affected by the construction of the Blanchard Dam in the Mississippi River.

In addition to the previous shoreline sites suspected to be inundated by the waters of lakes, a great deal of artifacts are typically found on islands in these lakes. Whether or not a landform is an emergent island or a submerged archaeological site depends on the lake's water level.


Because of the type and degree of landscape changes that have occurred since the retreat of the last glaciers, it is likely that many archaeological sites are either deeply buried or submerged. Sites can become deeply buried by sedimentation caused by upland erosion or stream deposition. Submergence of low-lying sites occurred when water levels initially rose while the glaciers were retreating or following dry periods when lake levels were much lower than today. These sites, most of which have not been discovered, are only in danger of destruction from major construction projects which alter the bottoms of lakes, rivers, and shorelines. As long as these sites stay inundated, intentional human intervention is not seen as a major threat.

Inundated sites can be exposed, however, by short-term climatic events and intensive post-contact/modern land use. For instance, during the drought years of the mid-1930s and late 1980s, water levels dropped significantly and may have exposed many previously submerged archaeological sites. Similarly, intensive cultivation by Euro-Americans has lowered groundwater levels thus affecting regional water supplies and exposing many previously submerged archaeological sites. Conversely, many once-submerged archaeological sites have become obscured by sedimentation (e.g., lakes become bogs which later become only low spots that are periodically wet) caused by lowering regional water tables and/or increasing sedimentation into lake basins.

After consulting with others concerned with the preservation of submerged prehistoric and early historic resources a number of additional preservation concerns were identified. One concern is the fluctuating water levels caused by recent dam installations which can drastically alter the characteristics on submerged archaeological sites. During periods of low water, archaeological sites can erode from riverbanks or shorelines into the water, losing their integrity. Even high water can have the same effect on a site that was previously unaffected by water levels due to wave action, which can alter site characteristics on the newly established shorelines. River barges on the major inland waterways can also be considered dangerous to submerged archaeological sites. For example, wave action caused by the barges and accidental shoreline scraping may do damage to archaeological sites. Another source of danger is natural processes such as wave action, freeze-thaw, and chemical decomposition. These processes endanger such sites as petroglyphs and organic remains.

Possible Solutions

It is difficult to estimate the damage to sites without a clear knowledge of what lies within sensitive dynamic areas. Because many of the prehistoric site types occur on inland waterbodies and shorezone environments, sampling of different settings to determine the presence or absence of sites, the state of preservation, and the effects of natural and human activities will help clarify the current situation. Once the resources are identified, site specific preservation measures can be suggested. Although it seems that the best solution to these dangers is to maintain a stable submerged state to prevent decay of the archaeological items, it is unlikely that this measure could be maintained. Workable solutions in situations of site destruction can be reached, however, such as riprapping, which has been used to stabilize riverbanks and lake shorelines.

Because these prehistoric resources are less visible, and less exciting to the public, far less attention has been paid to them. Consequently, our data base is lacking in several areas, and our ability to locate and evaluate these sites is restricted by current locational methods. Ideally, new technologies will be developed to assist in both our ability to locate and interpret this part of the historical record.


The Post-Contact Period begins with the intensive settlement of Minnesota by Euro-Americans. Then, as today, the waterways in the state served as a means for commerce, travel, and sustenance. Most of the first whites to permanently settle the area came by water routes. Today, barge traffic on the Mississippi River and shipping from the port at Duluth are lifelines of the state's core industries. There is hardly a navigable waterway in the state that is not associated with historic transportation, power generation, or settlement. The archaeological sites and objects that are the byproducts of these historical patterns of activity represent some of the state's most interesting and complex cultural resources.

For management purposes, the Minnesota SHPO has developed a series of contexts that relate to several aspects of the state's more recent history. Contexts applicable to our understanding of the related submerged resources are as follows:

Although it is difficult to break a whole history into subsequent parts because of the intertwining nature of the different contexts, characterization of historic activities into specific themes can help evaluate individual significance when we encounter these resources. Themes will often overlap in history, with one or more events shaping the course of others, and so on. In addition to general themes, geography and the natural resources associated with different areas have helped shaped historic events. The short narrative that follows is organized by watershed and geographical distribution, focusing on applicable contexts associated with known historic site types.

Lake Superior

When Euroamericans first visited Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior in the 1650s, they became the catalyst for over three centuries of commercial and recreational use of the lake. Historically, these uses, and the vessels through which commerce, shipping, communication, and settlement were carried out, reflect the broad range of economic patterns that predominated in northern Minnesota. After an early period of fur trading and provisional settlement, Euroamerican settlement in places such as Duluth and Beaver Bay concentrated on lumbering and commercial fishing. With the opening of the huge iron mines of the Iron Range in the late 19th century, shipping increased tremendously, and ports, docks, and other loading mechanisms grew up along the North Shore. Concurrently, the first railroad shipments of grain from the Red River Valley and the Dakotas began to fill ship holds during this period as well.

Shipping has been a substantial part of the historic uses of Lake Superior in recorded times. Committed to history through legend and song, Superior, even in name, evokes a feeling of greatness, and of gateways to the beyond. Minnesota shares its Lake Superior history with its neighbors as the history of shipping reflects larger patterns across both the Great Lakes and across Minnesota. Between the 1870s and the Second World War, shipping was Duluth's central industry, as a huge variety of types and sizes of ships carried iron, grain, lumber, and coal, as well as finished products of all kinds, passed through the harbor (Labadie, et al: 1990).

Lake Superior has received the most attention of the state's waterbodies with regards to its submerged sites, notably its shipwrecks (cf. Anfinson 1993, 1996). The SHPO has assembled information on a number of wrecks within Lake Superior, and evaluated their eligibility to NRHP. Nine wrecks have been placed on the Register to date. Preservation issues regarding the wrecks listed on the NRHP are discussed at the end of this section.

Inland Lakes

Transportation on the inland lakes within the state as a whole is not fully understood at present, although the SHPO has recently completed an initial study of shipwrecks on inland waterways (Hall et al. 1997). Patterns of shipping certainly include inland lakes that were part of early trade networks such as Sandy Lake (associated with the Savannah Portage) and other large northern lakes. Historic accounts mention vessels that were retired from service on the Mississippi River and transported to Lake Mille Lacs (Hart 1952) and vessels from Lake Superior that were brought to Lake Vermillion.

A pattern that has been better documented is the role of Lake Minnetonka and the recreational travel that developed there as part of the burgeoning urban region around Minneapolis. A variety of launches, steamboats, and vessels of all types plied Lake Minnetonka waters during the late 19
th and early twentieth century. A number of these vessels ended their days abandoned or intentionally sunk.

The Mississippi River and the St. Croix

Following the 1823 appearance of the steamboat Virginia marking the establishment of formal connections between the frontier outpost of Fort Snelling and the rest of the country, historical accounts of steamboat and other river transportation on the Mississippi River is well documented. Located in an ideal place to take advantage of the burgeoning river traffic, St. Paul became a regional center for transportation and warehousing. Until the completion of a railroad link in 1867, the river was St. Paul's principal means of commerce with the rest of the country. Traffic on the Mississippi and the St. Croix expanded greatly in the 1840s with the rise of lumbering and settlement in the two river valleys. In addition to the steady arrival of goods and passengers by steamboat, the river saw huge quantities of lumber floated, towed, and pushed down the river, as well as tourists embarking on the popular antebellum "fashionable tour" (Blegen: 1963; Durant 1905).

Traffic on the river upstream from Minneapolis was generally of lesser volume and shorter duration due to rapids and waterfalls. Commerce between St. Anthony Falls and the rapids at present-day Sauk Rapids was established by the 1850s, and was generally carried forth in support of the lumber trade and initial settlement in the area. By the 1880s, traffic was carried out through regular runs along the 25 landings between Aitkin and Pokegama Falls, later the site of Grand Rapids. Over this stretch, the river is winding and shallow, requiring vessels to have a draft of less than 2 feet. Again, much of the traffic on this part of the river supported lumber camps as they expanded their operations into north-central Minnesota. Traffic on a large scale was severely diminished by 1920 (Hart 1952; Hall et al. 1997).

The Minnesota River

Steamboat travel on the Minnesota was restricted both by the river's shallow flow, and also by the lack of legal access to the land until after the treaties at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851. Thereafter, traffic grew considerably, and rapidly, as towns with steamboat landings appeared as far upstream as New Ulm. Irregular traffic reached even farther upstream, however, as Henry David Thoreau is known to have made a journey between St. Paul and the Redwood Indian agency in 1861 (Blegen 1963:190).

The Red River

The first mention of navigation on the Red River by Euroamericans is of a journey to Prairie du Chien and back by members of the Selkirk settlement. Thereafter, for some decades, flatboat travel down river was an integral part of the "Red River Trail" transportation network. Steamboat traffic on the Red River was of relatively short duration and encompassed only a handful of vessels. The first reported major vessel on the river was the Anson Northrup, so named after the entrepreneur and captain who had the boat hauled overland from the upper reaches of the Mississippi River in 1859. This vessel was later renamed the Pioneer. Traffic on the Red River was particularly challenging, owing to the river's many sharp bends, which sometimes necessitated a river trip of up to a mile to journey an overland distance of a few hundred feet. Travel was never enormously successful, and died away altogether with the completion of the St. Paul and Pacific railroad to St. Vincent, where it joined the Canadian Pacific in 1879 (Bill 1928).

The Rainy River/Lake of the Woods

Riverboats assumed a relatively significant place in the history of the Rainy Lake/Rainy River/Lake of the Woods waterway, which constitutes much of the boundary between Minnesota and Canada. Beginning in the 1870s, when steamboats appeared on Rainy Lake in support of the construction of a canal and lock around Koochiching Falls (now International Falls/Fort Frances), steamboats assumed an important shipping, transportation, and recreational function for the scattered Euroamerican settlers in the area. The heyday of this traffic was the period between 1890 and 1910, as vessels made regular runs between Kenora on Lake of the Woods and International Falls/Fort Frances. Up to 23 vessels were in service on this waterway, and some of the smaller boats ascended tributary streams such as the Little Fork (Drache 1983).


Lake Superior Shipwrecks

Wrecks located in Lake Superior have received far more attention than any other submerged resource group in Minnesota. As noted previously, the SHPO has conducted field and archival investigations on shipwrecks located in Lake Superior. Of the 50 - 60 known wreck sites in Minnesota's portion of Lake Superior, at most, about half have been located or identified, with only half of that number receiving any type of recording for the purposes of resource inventory. Due to the limits of financial resources, how to continue the investigation, recording and evaluation process of these wrecks is problematic. Monitoring known sites that are threatened by human and natural destruction also creates budgetary problems. Knowledge of the law, and of the preservation responsibilities of the public are other key issues for the state. Ownership, although clearly defined according to the state, still causes conflicts for some. There is still the question of conflicts with Admiralty Law and how to interpret the definition of "abandoned" as described in the Abandoned Shipwreck Act. The case of the reported discovery of the Mayflower, for example, exemplifies this issue. The individual claiming discovery is requesting that the state apply to him for a permit to dive on it.

The following discussion addresses eight sites (nine shipwrecks) that are listed on the NRHP located in Lake Superior moving from south to north along the coast:

USS Essex

Site Description
Located in Duluth, near the end of Minnesota Point, the USS Essex (1874 - 1931) is a navy gunboat that was intentionally burned and sunk in shallow water. It was one of the last vessels built by the master builder of clipper ships, Donald McKay. Although it is really just the remains of the hull after burning, it is possibly one of the state's most significant maritime resources because it is a US Navy ship built by the renowned McKay. It is resting in the surf zone on the beach. The remains are fairly isolated, yet accessible to the public.

Preservation Issues
One of the most pressing of the issues surrounding the USS Essex is the possibility of catastrophic destruction. U.S. Marine exercises which are occasionally held on Minnesota Point could damage the remains with amphibious landing craft or a public agency could inadvertently harm it during a landscape stabilization project. Other issues include both inadvertent vandalism (pulling chunks of wood off for beach fires) and intentional vandalism such as prying off pieces for souvenirs. Natural preservation threats are caused by the current location of the wreck. Exposed on the beach it is vulnerable to the pounding surf, ice damage, and the shifting shoreline.
Possible Solutions
Preventative measures can be taken to minimize the potential for inadvertent wholesale destruction by federal or local agencies through communication with appropriate personnel. Ways to notify and monitor need to be established. Periodic photographic monitoring from control points will assist in assessing damage to the site. Highlighting the location, either by fencing, or signing may be on-site reminders that the site is sensitive. Because of the remote location, however, highlighting the location may cause other problems such as invitations for intentional vandalism. Encouraging stewardship of resources through public awareness may be one solution, or posting the punishment for destruction of public property.

Although controversial, other preservation options include burying the wreck for protection, or complete removal. Because of the association with the post-Civil War Navy and Donald McKay, and relative ease of removal, the hull could make a valuable centerpiece for an interpretive display, either on its own or in a museum. Members of the public have commented that a seasonal sign would be the most practical way to discourage unintentional destruction.

Thomas Wilson
Site Description
The Thomas Wilson, is a large whaleback bulk carrier sunk in a collision immediately outside of Duluth Harbor in 1902. The wreck is not only important in itself, its cargo is of some interest as it sank with a hold full of Mesabi ore. Nine men were killed in the incident. The wreck rests in about 80 feet of water.

Preservation Issues
There are several issues of concern for the wreck at present. The loss of life, for instance, brings up the question of applicability of the Minnesota Private Cemeteries Act. In addition, the wreck is within a major shipping lane, and large grain ships have been reported dropping anchors on the site causing major damage. Silt from the St. Louis River is also causing sedimentation to build around the site and its effects on the wreck, and the rate of accumulation is not known.

Possible Solutions
The SHPO does not feel that the Cemeteries Act should be enforced on the site (discussed later). Anchor damage will be discussed with the US Coast Guard and the SHPO supports creating a "no anchor zone", marking the site with a buoy. Marking the site with a mooring buoy may also help with diver safety. The "no anchor zone" alternative, however, may conflict with shipping safety measures for the harbor including drop and drag emergency situations. If a "no anchor zone" is instituted, with the exception of emergency situations, specific definitions of emergencies should be developed to prevent easy justifications for convenient mooring.

Sedimentation may create both negative and positive effects to the site. Regular monitoring by the state is not economically feasible, however, so a program of local sport diver monitoring is encouraged to assist the SHPO's preservation efforts.

Site Description
Located off Knife Island, the Niagara was a lumber rafting tug built in 1872. It sunk in a storm in 1904. The remains consist of four known sections, all from the forward portion of the vessel in 80 -100 feet of water. The stern is reported to be in deeper water, but this has not been confirmed.

Preservation Issues
Most of the scavengable remains have been picked off, although some vandalism could still occur. One issue is location of the missing section. Deterioration of the components is also an issue for the site. The proximity of the site to the entrance of Knife River Marina makes dive boats a potential nuisance to sport fishermen, and the fishing boats dangerous to divers.

Possible Solutions
Local sport diver assistance may be a solution to finding the missing stern section, however, depth is a concern. Improving diver accessibility through the use of informal buoys has been tried in the past, however, none have lasted. Interpretive signage in the marina could help make sport fisherman more careful with the use of their boats in the vicinity of the wreck. A monitoring program should be instituted to document deterioration , but the lack of funding may necessitate a volunteer sport diver program.

Site Description
The Onoko lies upside down about six miles east of Knife River. Sunk in 1915, Onoko was the first iron-built bulk freighter on the Great Lakes, a prototype for future bulk carriers. The wreck, because of its role in shipping, is probably of national significance. Lying in 200 feet of water, the site also consists of a large artifact field.

Preservation Issues
Although the depth limits most recreational diving, looting will be a concern with increasing availability of mixed gases for amateur divers. Other concerns are the use of remote cameras and other remotely operated vehicles which could promote looting.

Possible Solutions
Again, awareness of preservation issues may assist in protecting the site. Sport divers in the future may also help define the extent of the site, and provide more precise locational information.

Samuel P. Ely

Site Description
The wooden schooner Samuel P. Ely was sunk in 1896 when she broke from a tug in Two Harbors, then wrecked on the breakwater. The wreck consists of the largely intact hull with the stern of the vessel embedded in the breakwater.

Preservation Issues
The Samuel P. Ely is the classic case of a wreck suffering due to the lack of appropriate preservation planning and insufficient detail in interagency communication. During recent breakwater reconstruction, the Army Corps of Engineers damaged the wreck by dropping large boulders on it. This angered the sport diving community, and served as a lesson in planning for all concerned. At the request of the SHPO, the Corps of Engineers undertook the recording and evaluation of the site, resulting in a NRHP nomination. The Ely was listed on the National Register on June 18, 1992. A group of divers who later formed the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society (GLSPS), in an effort to preserve the wreck, bolted the hull together to assist the state with its preservation efforts. Current issues for the vessel include removal of the boulders from the deck and how to monitor the rate of deterioration of the site, and given the high level of diver interest, how to assist in public accessibility and interpretation of the site.

Possible Solutions
Boulder removal should be done as soon as possible, ideally with assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers as the boulders are a current diver safety hazard as well as damaging to the wreck. Monitoring of the wreck should be conducted to assess the rate of deterioration of the site, and as a means to discourage future inadvertent destruction. Sport divers frequent the site and one solution may be for a dive group to "adopt a wreck" providing monitoring data to the state on a regular basis. The SHPO would welcome additional plans by interested groups to continue preservation efforts such as hull and deck stabilization. Public interpretation of the site may take several forms. The SHPO encourages the creation of a laminated card for divers to carry as they explore the site. Public access may be enhanced by a mooring on the site. The SHPO also supports the idea of positioning cleats on the breakwater if heavy boat traffic becomes a problem.

Site Description
Wrecked in 1905, the schooner-barge Madeira consists of two large hull sections and a large debris field at the base of Gold Rock. The wreckage extends from the waters edge to over 100 feet deep. Until very recently, it was accessed through private land, just north of Split Rock lighthouse. The wreckage is visible from the top of Gold Rock on calm days.

Preservation Issues
Madeira is an exciting and generally safe dive site, although divers can easily go deeper than planned. The Madeira is possibly the most popular dive site in the state. One issue of concern over the years has been access to the site across private land. Another issue is the need to monitor the rate of deterioration for planning purposes. Interpretation of the wreck can also be enhanced through locating additional components which are reported in deeper water. Public interpretation also needs to be addressed.

Possible Solutions
As of June 1997 the state was close to obtaining title to the land around Gold Rock through the efforts of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council. Diver safety, although not currently a responsibility of the state, may by increased by placing a safety sign at access points, by marking depths on the site itself, and by installing a telephone for emergencies. Interpretation opportunities for this highly popular site abound for both the diving and non-diving public. Placing signs on the site may be one option, or as noted above, creating a diver tour card. The site, again, needs to be monitored, and this site is another candidate for volunteer sport diver participation.


Site Description
Like the Samuel P. Ely, the wooden steamer Hesper is a breakwater embedded wreck. Sunk near Silver Bay in 1905, the site consists of the fragmented hull with its bow embedded in the breakwater. It rests in 35 - 50 feet of water.

Preservation Issues
The wreck of the Hesper may be one of the best public interpretive potentials for shipwrecks in the state. Not only can the wreck be used for diver interpretation, its location also makes it a prime candidate for surface viewing. The site was recently threatened by breakwater modification, and as a result, it is being handled very carefully. Needs for the site include monitoring and additional recording.

Possible Solutions
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has developed a plan to preserve the Hesper in conjunction with SHPO consultation. Elements of the proposed plan include: a video assessment; working with the sport diving community in providing a mooring; developing a safe and separate shore access; a monitoring program; on site signage; and museum-based displays.

Amboy and George Spencer
Site Description
The two wrecks of the Amboy and George Spencer are located on the North Shore near Schroeder, both sunk in the famous Mataafa Storm of 1905. The wooden steamer George Spencer was towing the schooner Amboy at the time of sinking. The majority of the remains of the Amboy consist of a large keel section on a cobble beach. Other portions of the wreck are deposited on shore during heavy weather, then redeposited in the lake. Located in shallow water, there is a large section of the George Spencer consisting of hull components.

Preservation Issues
The wrecks are located in a small private bay with no real public access. The Amboy is a shoreline wreck and is being severely battered by the elements. The major concern with Amboy is the documented fast rate of deterioration. Photographs show a dramatic reduction in the remains as time passes. Ownership of the site is also a problem. If public interpretation is thought to be beneficial, landowner approval will be necessary. Another concern is the possible location of a public marina in the vicinity.

Possible Solutions
Because there is not much if any looting reported, the major concern for the Amboy is its exposure to the elements. Continued and controlled documentation is encouraged to monitor the rate of deterioration. Working with the landowner and negotiating public access and the possibility of an interpretive sign may be another avenue to explore. Monitoring of the George Spencer is also recommended, although due to the remoteness of the site, it may be difficult to encourage public assistance. The SHPO through its Review and Compliance authority with State and Federal agencies will keep careful watch on marina plans.

Shipwrecks in Inland Lakes and Rivers

Because of poor visibility and limited sport diving, some pristine wrecks in inland waters have gone undetected. Because many of these little known wrecks have been left alone, however, it makes them valuable prizes for looting. Although removal of artifacts is against state law, enforcement is difficult. Potential wreck repositories are in some of Minnesota's larger lakes. An inventory of resources conducted by the SHPO in Lake Minnetonka has discovered some remarkable wrecks which are discussed below. Of primary concern, is sport diver use of easily available technology to locate new wrecks. The use of magnetometers, and especially side-scan sonar is no longer beyond the means of the many wreck diving enthusiasts. Developing a program to keep up with the probability of new discoveries over the next few years is an issue of major concern for the state.

In July of 1996, the State Historic Preservation Office contracted with Mid-Atlantic Technology and Environmental Research, Inc. to conduct an archival and field check of submerged cultural resources (shipwrecks) located in Minnesota's inland lakes and rivers. The literature search produced evidence of 110 potential wreck sites, with only 12 being verified as having potential for material remains still surviving (Hall et al. 1996). Three of the 12 locations were selected for field investigation. The investigations were conducted at Burntside Lake near Ely, the Upper Mississippi River near Aitkin, and in Lake Minnetonka. The three vessels surveyed were the Bull-of-the-Woods (Burntside Lake), the Swan (Mississippi River), and the White Bear (Lake Minnetonka). In addition to the White Bear, five other vessels were located using remote sensing within Lake Minnetonka. Based on preliminary indications, these vessels may also be potentially significant resources. The results of the investigations and associated preservation issues are discussed below and derived primarily from the draft inland waterway survey report (Hall et al., 1996).

Bull-of-the Woods

Site Description
Although not positively identified, the Bull-of-the-Woods is located at Hoist Bay in Burntside Lake, St. Louis County. Probable association is with four logging companies that operated in the Burntside Lake vicinity between 1893 and 1926. The wreck has been identified as a type of craft known as a "gator", with a hull length of 50 feet and a beam of 14 feet. These vessels were used to move log booms or rafts around lakes in northern Minnesota. It has been reported that the Bull-of-the-Woods had the ability to move overland between lakes. The depth of the wreck is between 5 - 8 feet with the boiler exposed three feet above the water level. Still on the wreck are the remains of the boiler, steam engines and winch drum carriages of a hoist machine that was modified to power the vessel. The remaining structure, although deteriorated somewhat, is still in relatively good shape. Because of the vessel's modifications and probable association with one or more of the four turn-of-the-century logging companies, the wreck represents a unique example of logging craft used in northern Minnesota and was recommended as eligible for nomination to the NRHP.

Preservation Issues
The wreck is not known as a popular dive site and it is not known whether the site has been scavenged by divers or was left intact after its sinking. Photographs of the wreck are on display in a local dive shop in Ely. With the boiler exposed above water level, it is subject to freeze - thaw processes that may be affecting the preservation of the remains. Illicit removal of the heavy machinery, although it would be difficult, may be a potential risk. The rate of deterioration of the hull structure is also an issue.

Possible Solutions
Recognition and identification of the site as eligible for the NRHP may offer some protection from destruction by looters. Because of the relatively shallow depth of the water, the site does not appear to be a potential hot dive site, thus limiting the numbers of recreational divers that would visit the wreck. Identification of the site as a National Register property may provide the degree of awareness needed to discourage future amateur souvenir hunting. Because the rate and effects of the environment are not presently known, a monitoring program could be instituted by a recreational dive shop or other interested group to quantify the rates of deterioration.

The Swan and Other River Wrecks
Site Description
The Swan is located in the Mississippi River 50 feet upstream from the mouth of the Ripple (Mud) River near Aitkin, Minnesota. The Swan was reported in 1894 as a passenger and freight transport, later carrying supplies for the construction of a dam at Sandy Lake. The Swan was also engaged in the logging industry, before burning in 1898. A portion of the lower hull measuring 75 feet long by 26 feet wide was all that was identified at the site, mostly buried in the sediment. Other iron objects and red brick portions were observed. The site did not appear to contain any significant features or other qualities of National Register significance.

As documented by Hall et al. (1997), the majority of inland wrecks in Minnesota are in rivers rather than lakes. The Mississippi Rivers appears to contain most of the wrecks.

Preservation Issues
For the Swan and other wrecks located in riverine environments, the possibility of vessels maintaining structural and/or archaeological integrity are more precarious. In addition to natural forces such as ice and current, most river wrecks below Minneapolis have been removed as navigation obstacles by the Army Corps of Engineers. Given the probable low state of preservation for many of these vessels, it is less likely that a large number of examples remain to be studied. This situation, however, would make the discovery of a submerged and preserved vessel in one of Minnesota's rivers more interesting with regards to historical importance. If a vessel associated with historical events were to be located within an active river environment that had been spared the ravages of time and human intervention, preservation issues would involve protection of the wreck from looting, and monitoring of the destructive forces of nature.

Possible Solutions
It is inevitable that additional wrecks will be discovered over time within the river systems of Minnesota. To better assess the potential for these resources, volunteer groups such as dive shops or preservation societies may want to explore these resources. When submerged remains are identified, survey should be undertaken to assess eligibility to the NRHP, in addition to monitoring programs established to determine the effects of the environment and looting.

White Bear

Site Description
The White Bear is one of the famous "express" or "streetcar" boats built in 1906 by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company for travel on Lake Minnetonka. They were constructed with a length of 70 feet, and a 14 foot 10 inch beam. The White Bear was partially dismantled, filled with rubble, and scuttled in 1926. A sister ship, the Minnehaha was recovered by private individuals in 1980, left abandoned in the open air for 10 years, and restored between 1990 and 1996. The remains of the White Bear are in 68 feet of water resting upright and buried by silt to within 6 inches of the gunnels. It was reported that the machinery had been removed with the exception of galvanized ventilators, mooring cleats, and other hull attachments. The interior is covered in silt, and the hull appears to be in good condition. The site, because of its association with defined historic contexts, was recommended as eligible to the NRHP.

Preservation Issues
The site is a known dive site and although no willful destruction has been reported, vandalism is a possibility. The site is also in danger of unintentional anchor damage from fishing and pleasure-boat enthusiasts, in addition to dive boats mooring over the site. The effects of the bottom sediment are also not known, and monitoring may be necessary to determine the rate of deterioration and siltation.

Possible Solutions
It has been recommended by members of the diving public that this and other Minnetonka wrecks be fitted with mooring buoys, identifying the sites as historic properties, and making a safe place to anchor a dive boat. The buoys would also serve to assist the diving public in finding the sites, and protect the sites from unintentional anchor damage. The SHPO is in support of this although there are no resources to commit, and additional agency approval is needed (e.g., DNR, Hennepin County Water Patrol). The SHPO welcomes outside organizations who have the means to support such an effort. A monitoring program is also recommended and would be carried out in cooperation with local dive groups.

Hopkins, Como, Hercules(?) and an unidentified Stern Wheeler and Side Wheeler

Site Description
In addition to the assessment of the White Bear, a side scan sonar survey was conducted in the vicinity of Big Island in Lake Minnetonka which discovered the remains of the Hopkins, Como, a tug thought to be the Hercules, a stern wheeler, and a side wheeler. The Hopkins and Como are from the same family of "streetcar" boats as the White Bear and Minnehaha. The tug is thought to be the remains of the Hercules, with no preliminary identifications of the stern or side wheelers. All of the above wrecks were reported to be in good states of preservation, all resting upright with the exception of the side wheeler which appeared broken and scattered on the sonar image. These vessels are reported to be known dive sites and the potential for destruction from sport diving is a concern. Because they probably maintain a high degree of preservation and are associated with important historic themes, they were all tentatively recommended for inclusion in the NRHP pending further investigation.

Preservation Issues
The sites are known dive sites and some destruction has been reported such as the removal of the propeller from the Como in the early 1990s. The sites are also in danger of unintentional anchor damage from fishing and pleasure-boat enthusiasts, in addition to dive boats mooring over the sites. The effects of the bottom sediment and other environmental factors are also not known, and monitoring may be necessary to determine the rate of deterioration and siltation.

Possible Solutions
It has been recommended by members of the diving public that this and other Minnetonka wrecks be fitted with mooring buoys, identifying the sites as historic properties, and making a safe place to anchor a dive boat. The buoys would also serve to assist the diving public in finding the sites, and protect them from unintentional anchor damage. The SHPO is in support of this although there are no resources to commit, and additional agency approval is needed. The SHPO welcomes outside organizations who have the means to support such an effort. A monitoring program is also recommended and would be carried out in cooperation with local dive groups. First and foremost, the sites are in need of additional survey and reporting. This may be achieved through cooperation with interested dive groups or other outside organizations.

Other Submerged Sites (Non-Shipwrecks)

In addition to the scores of sunken vessels, the scope of the state's submerged cultural resources includes settlement remains, and shoreline facilities associated with all human activities that occurred at the shoreline or on the water. Site types can range from docks, and harbor works to refuse dumped from shoreside settlements. Although less glamorous, these remains help establish a bigger picture of historic events. The tie between shoreside activity and aquatic activity is usually interdependent, and corresponding contexts should take this into consideration. Modern development poses the primary threat to these resources as, in times past, these locales are commercially and aesthetically preferred. Specific preservation issues will be added to the plan for site specific cases following the results of shoreline investigations currently underway and those in the future.

Problems associated with preservation of inland prehistoric sites (fluctuating water levels etc.) are similar to preservation issues for submerged historic remains, although these sites will be more difficult to find due to the lack of written documentation and less dense artifact deposits.


To date the Minnesota SHPO has initiated several steps in preservation planning with regards to the state's submerged cultural resources. The first phases involved survey and identification of sites within state waters, evaluation of sites as to their significance, registering appropriate sites, and in some instances mitigating adverse effects to sites. Managing the known resources, in addition to developing a management plan requires a system of monitoring over time, to insure preservation goals are met. Minnesota, like most other states, does not have the dedicated resources to implement in-house programs. The key, therefore, to creating a useful and realistic program may be dependent on public and community involvement. The following additional elements represent the current view of the SHPO on general topics relating to submerged cultural resources within the state.

Wreck Diver Licenses and Collection of Artifacts

Any person who conducts archaeology on public land, or investigates historical sites on public land, is required to obtain a permit from the State Archaeologist as stipulated in the Field Archaeology Act (see Appendix A). The SHPO, however, is not in favor of licensing the exploration of shipwrecks or other submerged sites by amateur enthusiasts. Collection of artifacts, however, is not permitted without a license.

Availability of the Inventory Data and New Site Discoveries

The SHPO has adopted an "open files" policy on shipwreck information, which is based on trust in the public to use the information with a preservation ethic. The SHPO maintains a partial listing of shipwrecks in Minnesota on the Internet. In addition to offering information to the public, the SHPO would like to receive information as well. The SHPO maintains files on all shipwrecks and submerged sites that are reported to the office. If members of the public encounter a wreck, isolated find, or other submerged archaeological site (after inquiring as to whether it is known or not) the following information can be submitted in letter form if the wreck is determined to be potentially significant and previously unreported:

Loss-of-Life Sites and Human Remains

Although technically the Minnesota Private Cemeteries Act may prohibit disturbing shipwrecks or other underwater sites where there has been loss of life, the SHPO does not believe that simply diving on such sites is a violation of the Cemeteries Act. If human remains are encountered on a shipwreck, it is requested that the finds be reported to the local authorities (e.g., sheriff) immediately. All remains (including human) should not be disturbed on any shipwreck or submerged site.


The practice of returning artifacts removed from shipwreck sites back to their original location has been a result of education and growing concerns over the preservation of interesting finds for generations to come. Spear-headed by the sport diving community, a formal program has been developed called Put-It-Back or PIB. PIB has resulted in the return of several once removed artifacts being refitted to their original wreck. The artifacts are permanently labeled with a PIB number and a form is filled out and filed with the SHPO. There are a few issues, however, that make this program difficult to manage. The chance of the artifact being taken a second time by less conscientious divers is of primary concern. If objects are small and easily looted, then the return of the item becomes a preservation risk. In addition, incorrect placement of an object (either on the wreck or as part of a wreck scatter) may misinform future researchers about the dynamics of the site. Alternatively, the state is lacking in the curation resources to conserve and house hundreds of newly acquired artifacts. In a sense, the SHPO is working on an amnesty program for individuals and organizations that have salvaged items and want to return them for future divers. Each case should be discussed with the SHPO as to the appropriate action prior to putting objects back.

Underwater Parks

In 1989, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources received LCMR funds to investigate the possibility of an underwater state park at Split Rock with a major component being the wreck of the Madeira at Gold Rock. Several meetings were held in the early 1990s with DNR officials, sport divers, and Minnesota Historical Society personnel to discuss the implementation. Because Gold Rock was in private ownership, however, the plans were abandoned. They may be reactivated once the public acquisition of Gold Rock is completed.

Other states and jurisdictions have had success in establishing underwater parks, preserves, and trails. Michigan is an example of a Great Lakes state that has developed an extensive shipwreck preserve system. One approach to take is through the establishment of nomination guidelines and enlisting the support of other interested parties. Successful underwater parks and trails have been developed through cooperative efforts between states, municipalities, local businesses, dive clubs, dive shops, and national diver certification organizations. At this time, Minnesota has not committed the resources to develop underwater parks, preserves, or trails. The SHPO supports the idea, and would welcome any assistance from outside groups in planning or developing underwater management units.

Diver Awareness Programs

A powerful tool in instilling a sense of preservation responsibility within the community who is most affected, is a program of diver education. Programs for the diving community have been successful in other states and can range from distributing informational material to dive shops, to developing classroom lectures with slides for new and advanced courses, to actual underwater archaeology training sessions. Many certification agencies are encouraging preservation classes. The diving public is viewed as a preservation ally, since enforcement for most significant sites is not practical. The SHPO supports the idea of preservation education programs within the dive community although resources are limited. A slide show on Minnesota shipwrecks is available at no charge from the SHPO.

Sport Diver Participation and Site Monitoring

Sport divers and organized preservation societies such as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society have already contributed greatly to the preservation of Minnesota's submerged cultural resources. Because state funding is limited, the Minnesota SHPO encourages outside groups to become involved in actively supporting all facets of preservation of shipwrecks and submerged sites. Non-profit entities in other states have solicited and received funding for several projects done with SHPO support.

Salvage Permits

The State of Minnesota currently does not issue permits for the salvage of historic vessels, although the State Archaeologist could issue an archaeological license for such a salvage if the project had qualified personnel, followed an approved data recovery plan, and allowed for the proper curation of the artifacts.

Logging Underwater

Any place where log-driving activities or logging dams (e.g., spillways and sluiceways) are known to have been located are potentially fruitful locations for submerged logs and logging-related artifacts. The Department of Administration issues permits for logging underwater, and the applications are reviewed by the SHPO. The Department of Administration handles the requests because (at present) submerged logs are considered abandoned property, and since they are resting on state bottomlands, they are technically property of the state.

The SHPO currently allows this activity with the following conditions:

Shipwreck Council

In some states and countries, the management of shipwrecks is coordinated by a council consisting of members of different public agencies, often including members of diving associations. The SHPO may consider this option at a later date.

Intentional Vessel Sinking

A number of sport divers have suggested intentionally sinking vessels to create dive sites. The Minnesota SHPO does not oppose such actions as long as the vessel is not deemed historically significant and that the sinking does not adversely impact existing underwater historic sites. The Department of Natural Resources has notified at least one sport diver interested in intentional vessel sinking that serious obstacles include liability and responsibility for structures placed under water. Minnesota Rules (6115.0211 Subp 7.C) dictate that privately owned structures placed within the bed of public waters be permitted only when a governmental agency or local government accepts responsibility for future maintenance of the structure or its removal. While DNR issues permits to place structures underwater, liability remains with the permittee.


While all state and federal agencies must consider the potential harm they may do to underwater sites through their undertakings, a few agencies are proactive when it comes to protecting underwater cultural resources. The management parameters of these agencies is outlined below:

State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)

The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) was established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The State Historic Preservation Officer is the Director of the Minnesota Historical Society and the office is housed at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. The SHPO is jointly funded by the state and federal governments and carries out its responsibilities through a variety of program areas including Planning, Survey and Inventory, National Register, Review and Compliance, Grants, Tax Incentives, and Local Preservation Programs. A number of these program areas have a direct relationship to underwater cultural resources.

In response to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, the SHPO applied for funding from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR). The LCMR funded the SHPO shipwreck initiative in the 1990-91, 1992-93, and 1996-97 bienniums. The funds were used to survey for underwater sites, evaluate the historical significance of these sites, list eligible sites on the National Register of Historic Places, and develop a plan to protect and interpret the sites. Through the LCMR-funded shipwreck initiative, the SHPO has assumed the principal responsibility for underwater cultural resources in Minnesota.

Following the expiration of the LCMR funding at the end of June 1997, the SHPO will be able to offer only limited help with the management of underwater cultural resources in Minnesota. They will continue to maintain the inventory file for underwater sites, assist with the coordination of sport diver initiatives, and occasionally update the management plan, but will be unable to actively survey, evaluate, register, and interpret underwater sites. Through the Review and Compliance program area, however, the SHPO will continue to monitor state and federal agency actions that may affect underwater cultural resources.

Two Indian reservations in Minnesota, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs, have recently assumed the duties of the Historic Preservation Officer within the boundaries of their reservations. The roles of Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPO) in managing underwater cultural resources have yet to be clearly defined, although the Abandoned Shipwreck Act states that Indians hold title to shipwrecks on their lands.

Office of the State Archaeologist

The Office of the State Archaeologist was formally established in 1963 with the passage of the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act. The State Archaeologist is appointed by the Board of the Minnesota Historical Society for a four-year term, but the State Archaeologist cannot be an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society. Currently, the State Archaeologist reports to the Commissioner of Administration.

The duties of the State Archaeologist are outlined in the Field Archaeology Act and the Private Cemeteries Act (see Appendices A and B). These duties include approving the licenses of qualified individuals to undertake archaeology on state lands, reviewing state agency plans that may affect known or suspected sites, and authenticating burials older than 50 years on private or public lands under the jurisdiction of the state.

With regard to underwater sites, the State Archaeologist would have to approve any license applications for archaeology conducted in public waters. The State Archaeologist also cooperates with the SHPO in reviewing state agency actions which might affect underwater sites such as sunken log harvesting.

Minnesota Department of Administration

As noted earlier, the Commissioner of Administration is in charge of abandoned property on state land (Minn. Stat. 16B.25). Through the Real Estate Management Division, the Commissioner issues permits to search state lands for abandoned property and transfer ownership of located property.

The Department of Administration has been involved in underwater historic sites primarily through permit applications for underwater log harvesting. If rumors of slot machines, airplanes, and firearms on lake bottoms are substantiated, the Commissioner may become involved in any requests for their recovery. In addition, the State Archaeologist reports to the Commissioner of Administration so the Commissioner could become more involved in other aspects of underwater cultural resource management.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The agency was established in 1931 as the Department of Conservation. It was renamed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 1971. The principal responsibility of DNR is to conserve natural systems in Minnesota while providing for the use of natural resources for economic and recreational purposes. DNR helps to manage the state's 15,293 lakes (10 acres or more) and the tends of thousands of miles of rivers. Many of these resources are contained within 66 state parks. DNR is divided into seven divisions: Forestry, Fish and Wildlife, Parks and Recreation, Minerals, Trails and Waterways, Enforcement, and Waters.

Underwater cultural resources have come under the jurisdiction of three principal DNR divisions: Trails and Waterways, Waters, and State Parks. Trails and Waterways has assisted with the management plan for the wreck of the Hesper because it was involved with the expansion of a water access site. Waters issues permits for placing structures underwater and thus will be involved in any intentional vessel sinkings. State Parks has received LCMR funds to evaluate the feasibility of establishing an underwater state park at Split Rock and will probably be the management unit in charge of land access to the Madeira site.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, the Corps of Engineers (COE) has responsibility for investigating, developing, and maintaining the nation's water and related environmental resources.; constructing and operating projects for navigation, flood control, major drainage, shore and beach restoration, related hydropower development, water supply, water quality control, fish and wildlife conservation and enhancement, and outdoor recreation; responding to emergency relief activities directed by other federal agencies; and administering laws for the protection and preservation of navigable waters, emergency flood control and shore protection.

The COE is divided into eight major geographical divisions nationally. The divisions are then sub-divided into districts. Two divisions and two districts have jurisdiction over Minnesota waters. The St. Paul District of the Mississippi Valley Division has jurisdiction over all environmental permitting activities in Minnesota. The office is based in St. Paul with several field offices located throughout the state. The Detroit District of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division has civil works and navigation system jurisdiction over northeastern Minnesota. Detroit has an area office in Duluth.

The Detroit District has been the office of the COE most involved in shipwreck preservation in Minnesota. They maintain the breakwater where the Samuel Ely is embedded in Two Harbors. They also maintain parts of the navigation system in the port of Duluth, a harbor that contains extensive submerged cultural resources. The Detroit District also runs the Duluth Canal Park Museum which is the principal shipwreck museum in Minnesota.

The St. Paul District has the most potential to permit activities that affect underwater cultural resources in Minnesota because they have review authority for the entire state. They recently handled the permit for the filling of Slip #1 in Duluth Harbor, an action that the SHPO opposed, but through the cooperation of the COE, an agreement was worked out to help mitigate the adverse affects of the filling.

U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is the primary federal agency with maritime authority for the United States. The Coast Guard has four main mission: Maritime Law Enforcement, Maritime Safety, Marine Environmental Protection, and National Security. In the Great Lakes and on the inland waterways, the Coast Guard maintains navigation aids such as buoys and lighthouses, promotes boating safety, maintains ice-free channels in the winter, enforces federal laws on the water, inspects U.S.-flagged vessels for safety, licenses seamen, manages port safety, undertakes maritime search and rescue operations, and helps the COE to maintain waterways.In Minnesota, the Coast Guard maintains an office and operations facility in Duluth that reports to their Cleveland center.

The Coast Gaurd could help prevent the destruction of underwater cultural resources through maintenance of warning buoys above shipwrecks to prevent anchor damage. This is especially critical at the site of the Thomas Wilson in the outer harbor at Duluth.

Other Agencies
Enforcement of existing laws protecting submerged cultural resources is perhaps one of the most difficult management issues. Most agencies do not get involved in enforcement, although they are have oversight obligations. An exception to this in Minnesota is the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which has an Enforcement Division. DNR conservation offices enforce all natural resources laws in the state. Because cultural resources are defined as natural resources in Chapter 116B of state law, DNR officers could potentially arrest individuals destroying or disturbing submerged cultural resources.

Because Minnesota counties have jurisdiction over the waters within their boundaries, county sheriffs can also arrest violators of state law. The Hennepin County Water Patrol, a division of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department, has helped with the protection of shipwrecks in Lake Minnetonka.


A draft of the Minnesota Submerged Cultural Resources Preservation Plan was first presented at the "Gales of November" shipwreck conference in Duluth, Minnesota on October 12, 1996. A presentation and comment period were chaired by Dr. Scott Anfinson representing the SHPO, and Dr. Mitchell Marken consultant to the SHPO. Although many issues were discussed, it was felt by the audience that more time was needed to digest the recommendations, and an additional meeting should be held. The SHPO then requested names of all those interested in attending an additional discussion and posted the draft plan on the Internet. Notices were sent to all those interested in addition to other members of the sport diving community. The second meeting was held in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center on November 21, 1996 and was attended by 30 sport divers. Comments from the discussions, e-mail, and letters were incorporated into the plan.


Minnesota has an abundant, yet manageable, array of submerged cultural resources within state waters. Several shipwrecks have been discovered, documented, and evaluated for nomination to the NRHP in both Lake Superior and inland lakes and rivers. These wreck sites range from the deepwater wreck of the freighter Onoco in Lake Superior, to the shallow-water resting site of the lumber tug Bull-of-the-Woods in Burntside Lake. Prehistoric sites, although harder to detect (and as a result less reported), have a high probability of future discovery as suggested by occasional finds in Minnesota and by finds in neighboring states.

Ongoing work by the SHPO has helped to identify new resources, as well as to preserve known submerged historic sites. Conducting archival research, field surveys and preparing National Register nomination forms, increases the value of these resources in both a historical perspective and public interest. Funding is limited for the state to discover, monitor, evaluate and preserve these historical resources. Dedicated members of the diving public and groups such as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society, have teamed to successfully conduct several preservation projects, with minimal financial commitment. It is hoped that such partnerships between the public and the state will continue.

Problems involving the preservation of known sites have been presented in this plan, as have possible solutions. Issues discussed include diver access, the possibilities of providing moorings, and methods for monitoring natural deterioration of submerged sites and those in active shorezones. The SHPO believes the majority of the diving public is a conscientious group of sport enthusiasts, who share the responsibility for preserving these resources for future generations. Providing public access to these sites has been initiated through consultation with agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Success of active monitoring programs will rely primarily on voluntary public involvement.

Preservation planning is an ongoing and evolving process. As more resources are discovered, and new issues arise, modifications and amendments to the plan are bound to occur. This plan is intended to be a foundation for the management of resources the SHPO has determined historically significant. Our increasing knowledge of the role the submerged past played in our history will help us understand who we are and give us direction for the future.

Additional comments can be submitted to:

Dr. Scott Anfinson
State Historic Preservation Office
Minnesota Historical Society
345 Kellogg Boulevard West
St. Paul, MN 55102-1906
email address: scott.anfinson@mnhs.org

Dr. Mitchell Marken
Summit Envirosolutions, Inc.
1475 Terminal Way, Suite B
Reno, NV 89502 (702) 785 - 8888 FAX (702) 785 - 8899
email address: mmarken@aol.com

or Summit Envirosolutions, Inc.
10201 Wayzata Blvd. Suite 215
Minnetonka, MN 55305 (612) 595 - 8888


Anfinson, S.F.
1993 Archaeological and Historical Studies of Minnesota's Lake Superior Shipwrecks. State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society.
1996 The Wreck of the USS Essex. Minnesota History 55(3):94-103.

Bill, F.A.
1928 "Steamboating on the Red River of the North," North Dakota Historical Quarterly, pp. 100-119.

Blegen, T.C.
1963 Minnesota: A History of the State. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Clouse, R.,
1985 Historic Context Outlines: The Prehistoric Contexts. Minnesota History in Sites and Structures: A Comprehensive Preservation Planning Process. State Historic Preservation Office: St. Paul.

Dobbs, C.A.,
n.d.Historic Context Outlines: The Contact Period Contexts (ca. A.D. 1630 - 1820). Reports of Investigations 39. Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, Minneapolis.

n.d.Outline of Historic Contexts for the Prehistoric Period (ca. 12,000 B.P. - A.D. 1700). Reports of Investigations 37. Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, Minneapolis.

Drache, H.M.
1983 Koochiching: Pioneering Along the Rainy River Frontier. Interstate Printers and Publishers Inc., Danville, IL.

Durant, E.D.
1905 Lumbering and Steamboating on the St. Croix River. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Vol. 10, No.2, 645-675.

Hall, W., D. Birk and S. Newell
1996 Shipwrecks of Minnesota's Inland Lakes and Rivers: A Submerged Cultural Resources Survey. On file, Minnesota Historical Society, State Historic Preservation Office, St. Paul.

Hart, I,H,
1952 Steamboating on the Mississippi Headwaters. Minnesota History. 33:7-19.

Labadie, P., B. Agranat, and S. Anfinson
1990 Minnesota's Lake Superior Shipwrecks A.D. 1650-1945: Historical Contexts and Property Types. Unpublished manuscript on file, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Wheeler, R., W. Kenyon, A. Woolworth and D. Birk
1975 Voices from the Rapids: An Underwater Search for Fur Trade Artifacts, 1960-73. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

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