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State Submerged Resources > Vermont


Vermont's Lake Champlain is the sixth largest body of fresh water in the United States. Being long and narrow, Lake Champlain flows along more than half of Vermont's western border with New York. The Connecticut River flows along much of the state's eastern border with New Hampshire. Other major bodies of water and rivers in Vermont include Lake Memphremagog, the Otter River, and the West River. About 366 square miles (almost 4%) of Vermont are covered by water.

What sites are underwater?

The lakes and rivers of Vermont have served as transportation corridors throughout the state for aboriginal Indian people, Europeans, and American settlers. The waterways contain numerous historically important shipwrecks including canal boats, canoes, barges, bateaux, ferryboats, gunboats, longboats, rafts, schooners, sloops, tugboats, and other military, commercial, and private vessels dating back at least to the 1700s and the founding of the nation. Three examples, all of which are interpreted and diver accessible, include the Water Witch, the Diamond Island Stone Boat, and the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry.

The Water Witch was constructed as a steamboat in 1832 but converted to a schooner in 1835 by the Champlain Steamboat Company. The vessel spent a long career transporting cargo on Lake Champlain. In 1866, while carrying a load of iron ore, the Water Witch foundered in a gale and sank.

The Diamond Island Stone Boat is an example of one of hundreds of wooden canal boats that carried cargo through Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal. Canal boats generally lacked an engine, masts, sails, or other independent means of propulsion, and were towed from place to place by a tugboat or pulled by mules alongside the canal. The Diamond Island Stone Boat is so named because it sank with a cargo of quarried stone blocks still visible today.

The Horse Ferry in Burlington Bay is the only known surviving example of a horse-powered turntable team-boat. Animal-powered vessels were introduced in North America in 1814 and were a popular way to cross rivers and lakes until the middle of the 19th century when steam driven vessels replaced them. This particular vessel has two paddle wheels. A half-size model of the vessel's horse-power system can be seen at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Who takes care of Vermont's underwater archeological sites?

The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation in the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs coordinates historic preservation activities on behalf of the state. The State Archeologist conducts and maintains a survey of archeological sites located within the state. The Division also administers a program for the preservation and protection of underwater historic properties. The Division carries out its responsibilities in cooperation with partners like the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, which conducts systematic surveys and research on the lake's underwater sites.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

The state reserves the exclusive right of field investigation on sites owned by the state to protect and preserve archeological and scientific information. All information and objects derived from state lands remain the property of the state.

A permit is required for any exploration or recovery operation which may remove, displace, or destroy an underwater historic site. The State Historic Preservation Officer, with the advice of the State Archeologist, has discretion over granting permits if doing so is in the best interest of the state. If a permit is granted, activities under the permit are conducted under the supervision of the State Archeologist.

Are there any underwater parks in Vermont?

Vermont and New York have established the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve to protect some of the lake's historic shipwrecks and provide public access for divers. Mooring buoys and diving guidelines are available for each site.

What laws concern underwater archeology in Vermont?

Relevant state laws about historic preservation and underwater archeological sites are codified in the Vermont State Historic Preservation Act in the Vermont Statutes Annotated, Title 22, Chapter 14.

These laws establish that the underwater archeological sites beneath state waters are held in trust by the state for all the people of Vermont, and place a responsibility on the state to protect, wisely manage and interpret this public heritage.