miscellaneous wrecks

New York Central 14, II The Final Chapter

see more images of the New York Central 14 II

A shipwreck readily identified as that of a steel hulled steam lighter was located East of Boston harbor in an area known as Massachusetts Bay, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean that protrudes into the Massachusetts coastline between Cape Ann and Cape Cod.

Positive identification of the wreck would prove to be much more difficult than originally anticipated. Initial thoughts were that it might be one of five lighters that were sunk as part of a large public works project during the depression.

NYC Central

Starting in 1930 and continuing through 1942 the U.S. Government embarked on a public works project to rid Boston Harbor of the numerous derelict ships that cluttered the backwaters and shallows of the harbor. As a result 64 ships ranging from an old WWI U.S. Navy Eagle boat (an early version of a destroyer escort) to WSA wooden hulled freighters and all manner of craft were scuttled in an area known as the lightship dumping ground east of Boston harbor. Included in the list of scuttled ships were five lighters.

The steel hulled lighter in question was originally thought to possibly be one of the five. Early research proved that our lighter was in fact none of the five known to have been sunk during the public works project. Of those five vessels, the Annie Connant, Evans, Joel Cook, McGowan and Reliance three were unpowered stick lighters and all were of wood construction. Since the wreck we had found was powered and of steel construction, this information ruled out the possibility of our lighter being one of the original five.

It became clear early on that we would need additional information from both the wreck site itself and historical sources to positively identify this wreck. The job of identifying shipwrecks often takes unusual turns and is a matter of following leads and investigating sources of information both at the wreck site an in the various archives of historical data. Equally important especially in this case is a little help from friends and eyewitness with first hand knowledge of the ship in question. More on that later.

Careful observation of the shipwreck provided a great deal of information. The wreck itself is sitting upright and intact on a sand bottom in 120’ of water, and the main deck is level about 15’ above the sea floor. All of the superstructure and deck equipment is missing. Still in place on deck are a stem bitt at the tip of the bow, kevel cleats on both sides of the deck located at the extreme outboard edge of the deck and a foundation for a manual vertical capstan on the centerline several feet forward of the stern. Also in evidence on the deck are steel flanges with boltholes running down both deck edges and athwart ships aft of the bow and forward of the stern. Most all of the machinery is still in place. A large single cylinder direct acting steam engine dominates the engine room amidships. The top of the cylinder head is just below the level of the deck. A single oil fired boiler is located forward of the engine. Forward of the boiler are two very large water tanks abreast of each other extending almost to the inside edge of the hull plating. No evidence of an official number or name was found anywhere on the hull or in the engine room.

The next major clue to be discovered was a steam gauge recovered by local divers inscribed with the words T.S. Marvel Shipbuilding Co. Newburg N.Y. It was hoped that this seemingly excellent lead would help with the identification of the wreck, but in fact proved to be a dead end.

T.S. Marvel Shipbuilding Company located in Newburg New York approximately 55 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River was in Business from 1886 to 1914. Marvel built a wide range of vessels from Steam Tugs to passenger ships and yachts. The author compiled a fleet list of ships built by T. S. Marvel from a government publication titled “Record of Metal Vessels built in the United States 1825-1919”. This excellent resource provides by year the name, tonnage, type of propulsion, construction material either iron or steel, official number and original owners name as well as the shipyard that built the ship. All of the data compiled for T.S. Marvel from this record had to be cross referenced with Merchant Vessels of the United States of the appropriate year to obtain the physical dimensions of each ship that Marvel built. The additional information obtained from MVUS included length over all, length between perpendiculars, beam and depth of hold.

Going back to the wreck site with a surveyor’s tape measure our team measured the physical dimensions of the wreck. The ship was 113’ 9” in length over all, 106’ 7” length between perpendiculars, 31’ 0” beam and had a depth of hold greater than 12’. It was impossible to get an accurate measurement of the depth of hold as the inside of the lower portion of the hull is filled with hard sand and clay. Attempts were made to scour some of the sand away to reach deeper into the hold for a more accurate measurement. This proved unsuccessful due to hard clay below the sand. During this series of dives an important clue was discovered in the wrecks engine room. A synthetic fiber line possibly made of nylon or polyester was found to be hanging from the overhead on the port side. This indicated to us that the ship might have sunk at a much later date than originally thought. More than likely post mid 1960’s, when synthetic fiber line came into more common use aboard workboats, replacing manila.

With the measurement data in hand from the wreck site we returned to our list of vessels built by T.S. Marvel Shipbuilding Company to look for a match. None of the vessels built by T.S. Marvel matched the dimensions of the lighter we had found. This ruled out the possibility that Marvel had built the ship, but where did the gauge come from?  Existence of the gauge could indicate two possible scenarios. The first being that the vessels hull was built elsewhere and the machinery was built by T.S. Marvel or that the gauge was a replacement that was acquired from another source.

In compiling the list of vessels built by TS marvel we noticed that they had built a total of 18 steam tugs for the New York Central Rail road, their largest customer. These tugs were built between 1891 and 1914.

Having an accurate set of dimensions of the wreck and knowing that the ship was not built by T.S. Marvel we needed to find a steam lighter or lighters that matched the dimensions and physical characteristics of our wreck. To do so would require compiling a list of all known lighters and working back from there. Steam lighters were built in three common configurations, open deck lighters with the superstructure and machinery aft, open deck lighters with the superstructure and machinery amidships and covered lighters with the machinery amidships, or slightly aft of amidships. Many lighters were owned by railroads and a number were also owned by private companies that delivered freight and stores to ships throughout the harbors of the country. To develop a list of steam lighters we gave some serious thought as to where to find all the information we would need. It was obvious we might have to look outside traditional maritime sources for this information, as so many lighters were owned by railroads.

Consulting sources such as past issues of the Steamship Historical Society of America’s quarterly journal, Steamboat Bill, as well as a number of railroad journals such as the Rail Marine Information Group’s publication Transfer and the Erie Railroad publication The Diamond proved most helpful. Additional information was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution, Merchant Vessels of the United States and archives of the Ward line.

After compiling a comprehensive list of steam lighters operating in the North East US from the late 1800’s thru the 1960’s we compared notes. Several very close matches were found but one vessel stuck out in particular, the New York Central 14 II. All of the dimensions of our wreck matched exactly with that of the NYC 14 II. Certificates of Enrollment obtained from the National Archives for the NYC 14 II and the other close matches which included the NYC 28, Indianapolis ex PRR no 153, Louisville ex PRR no.154, Buffalo, Sterlington ex Suffern and Irvington ex Pacific, shed further light on the subject. Information obtained from the enrollments enabled elimination of three vessels right away; the Indianapolis, Louisville and Irvington were scrapped in 1955 and 1963 respectively. The Sterlington became a wood storage hulk in New Jersey. This narrowed the possibilities down to the NYC 28, the Buffalo and the NYC 14 II. The NYC 28 became a sandblasting vessel and went out of enrollment in 1945 her last homeport was New York. Her length between perpendiculars was 4.7’ short of that of our wreck, so we felt this was a less likely candidate. The Buffalo, whose length overall was 6’ longer than our wreck went out of enrollment in 1954, her final disposition was unknown.

This process brought us to our final most likely candidate the NYC 14 II. Alan D. Frazer former director of the SSHSA and retired senior curator of the Mariners Museum in Newport News Virginia wrote two excellent articles about the NYC 14 II in past issues of Steamboat Bill. The first in the summer 1996 issue titled “Anatomy of an Ugly Duckling: New York Central 14” told the story of the covered steam lighter NYC 14 and her subsequent replacement the NYC 14 II. The second article “The Ugly Duckling Meets the Swan” in the summer 1997 issue told the story of the NYC 14 II providing mail service to the French liner Normandie on her maiden arrival in New York, June 3rd 1935.

Close examination of the certificate of enrollment for the NYC 14 II obtained from the National Archives revealed that the ship was sold in February of 1962 to a Captain E.S. Wilcox of New London Connecticut. The following month, March of 1962 the ships enrollment was surrendered to the government and no further record of the ship appears in enrollment records or in Merchant Vessels of the United States. Further examination of the documents from the national archives including the application for official number reveal that the NYC 14 II was built at the Staten Island Shipbuilding Corporation on Staten Island NY in 1916. A check of “Record of Metal vessels built in the United States” revealed that Staten Island Shipbuilding Corp which later became part of the Todd Shipyard group only built one vessel for the NY Central Railroad, that being the NYC 14 II. No sister ships were built for the NY Central or any other potential customers.

Much of the evidence gathered thus far pointed to our wreck being the NYC 14 II.  Physical dimensions of the wreck matched those listed on the certificate of enrollment. Location of the engine and boiler amidships on the wreck also matched the machinery configuration of the NYC 14 II. Additionally the wreck has an oil-fired boiler, as did the NYC 14 II. Layout of the stem bitt, kevel cleats and location of the aft capstan foundation all match that of the NYC 14 II as well.  Returning to the wreck site our team measured the dimensions of the hatch openings and location of the steel flanges with boltholes attached to the deck. These dimensions were compared with scaled measurements taken from a broadside photograph of the ship, and matched the location of the maximum extremities of the deckhouse on the NYC 14 II.

The distinctive shape of the stern of the NYC 14 II and the number and position of flanges for wooden guardrails on the hull also matched that of our wreck. We surmise that the gauge inscribed T.S. Marvel Shipbuilding Co. was a replacement for a broken original gauge. This gauge most likely came from a supply of spare parts from one of the decommissioned tugs that had been built by Marvel for the NYC Railroad.

One major question remained, if the wreck in question was in fact the NYC 14 II how did it get from New London Connecticut to the waters East of Boston? It was at this point where we needed a little help from our friends. Attending a SSHSA Southern New England chapter meeting in the spring of 2006 we passed around a photograph of the NYC 14 II, to see if anyone remembered anything about the ship. Chuck Rochon Sr. a longtime member of the society and an expert on local steam vessels, mentioned that he had seen it lying in Shaw’s cove in New London back in the 1960’s with the pilothouse missing.  We then submitted a query for submission in the Steamship Historical Societies quarterly newsletter The Telegraph, asking for any information concerning the NYC 14 II after Captain Wilcox purchased it. Captain Earl E. Maxfield Jr. of Old Saybrook Connecticut replied to the query with firsthand knowledge of the NYC 14 II. Captain Maxfield a tugboat captain and pilot of many years had worked for captain Wilcox in the late 1960’s. He had remembered seeing the 14 on its way to New London under tow by one of captain Wilcox’s tugs the Choptank. He further stated that after the 14 arrived in New London captain Wilcox used the vessel as a storage facility for parts and supplies for his marine operations. Captain Maxfield went on to say that sometime in the 1960’s Boston’s T wharf collapsed leaving the Ross Towboat Company without an office. Searching for a solution, officials of Ross Towboat came across the 14 in New London. An offer was made and captain Wilcox sold the NYC 14 II to Ross Towboat Company of Boston for use as a floating office.

Ross Towboat Company was purchased by the Boston Fuel Towing Company in 1979. Boston Fuel later became Boston Towing and Transportation part of the Reinauer group of companies. We spoke with Jake Tibbetts general manager of Boston Towing and Transportation who was with Boston Towing at the time of the Ross Towboat sale. Mr. Tibbetts confirmed that the NYC 14 II was not part of the fleet of vessels sold to Boston Towing in 1979.

Based on this information we believe that the NYC 14 II was scuttled at sea by the Ross Towboat Company sometime prior to the sale of the company in 1979. This would place the sinking sometime between the mid 1960’s and 1979. Returning to the National Archives we searched the Army Corps of Engineers records of wrecks and obstructions for the 1960’s through the early 1980’s for any mention of the ship being scuttled east of Boston. No record of any kind concerning the NYC 14 II was found in the Corps of Engineers records.

We are confident that the steel hulled steam lighter found East of Boston is in fact the NYC 14 II. The exact details of her final demise await further developments. Possibly someone who was associated with Ross Towboat Company in the late 60’s or early 70’s will come forward to shed further light on the subject. For now the NYC 14 II resting on the bottom of Massachusetts Bay serves as a reminder of a means of cargo transportation long since past.



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