One of the Great Lakes states, Indiana's shoreline with Lake Michigan is 40 miles long. All of the state's major rivers, including the Kankakee, Ohio, Tippecanoe, Wabash, and White rivers, are tributaries to the Mississippi River, while several smaller rivers feed into Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Major lakes include Monroe Lake, an artificial reservoir, and Lake Wawasee, the state's largest natural lake. About 550 square miles of Indiana (less than 2% of the state) are covered by water with almost half that area in Lake Michigan.
What sites are underwater?
Based on archival and documentary research and preliminary survey work by the state, as many as 50 historic shipwreck sites may lie in the waters of Lake Michigan controlled by Indiana. The earliest known loss dates from 1857 and the greatest number of losses occurred between 1880 and 1920. Lost vessels include bulk and package freighters, passenger ships, and car ferries. Earlier small trading vessels also may exist. A few examples of shipwrecks in Indiana waters include the following:
- The Muskegon was a wooden hulled side-wheel steamer built in 1872. Originally named Peerless, a sand and gravel company converted it from a passenger and package freighter to a sand sucker. The vessel caught fire in 1910 while at dock in Michigan City, was scuttled to extinguish the flames, set adrift in deep water, and eventually sank in 1911 in Lake Michigan near Michigan City. The shipwreck is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Built in 1881 by shipping magnates, the David Dows was, at the time, said to be the largest 5 masted schooner in the world and the grandest to navigate the Great Lakes. Designed with a deep draft, the schooner could not take on a full cargo without bottoming out in harbors and grounding frequently in lakes. After two short years as a schooner, the vessel was converted to a more serviceable barge. It sank during a storm in 1889 with a load of coal near the Indiana Shoals off Whiting.
- The Frank W. Wheeler was a wooden hulled bulk freighter built in 1887. While carrying a load of coal, the vessel ran into a sandbar during a winter storm in 1893 and sank, breaking in half, near Michigan City.
- Built in 1895, the barge Car Ferry No. 2 transported railroad cars and cargo across Lake Michigan. The 300 foot long vessel was carrying 28 railroad cars loaded with iron ore, telegraph poles and lumber when it capsized and sank three miles from the Calumet City lighthouse in 1906.
- The steamship George F. Williams was built and launched in 1889. The vessel was part of the Gilchrist Transportation Company fleet until 1913 when it was sold at auction. In 1915, it was towed and beached on the shore of Lake Michigan near Hammond.
Who takes care of Indiana's underwater archeological sites?
Responsibility for all archeological research and development programs for the state falls to the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The Indiana Department of Administration reserves control of historic sites, including abandoned shipwrecks that lie in state waters.
What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?
The state requires a permit for any removal, disturbance, salvage, or destruction of an abandoned shipwreck. Applicants must include an appropriate archeological plan and establish the professional qualifications of the principal investigator. In addition, for marine projects, the state mandates the principal investigator have two years of supervisory experience in underwater archeological techniques and research. The applicant must also establish that adequate facilities, equipment, personnel, and methods will be applied to catalog, clean, analyze, preserve and curate collections including their documentation.
What laws concern underwater archeology in Indiana?
You can find the state's archeology and waterways laws codified at Indiana Code § 14-21-1, et seq. and § 14-29-1-8. The relevant regulations are in Title 312 of the Indiana Administrative Code at Article 6 (navigable waters), Article 20 (historic preservation review board), and Article 21 (archaeological review and recovery). One of the goals of these laws is to protect abandoned shipwrecks in Indiana's waters for historical and recreational purposes.