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Shipwreck exposed as river levels drop

Created on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 11:10
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 11:31


What may look like a pile of aged lumber in a snowy landscape are actually the remnants of an old boat uncovered along the banks of the Mississippi River in Perry County as the river drops to historic low levels. The vessel is just one of several up and down the shores of the drought-stricken water way that have come to the surface in recent months. In the background on the hill is Chester, Ill.

By Amanda Layton

PERRYVILLE, MO. - As the Mississippi River continues to drop to historically low levels, artifacts long submerged have been uncovered near the shores of the massive waterway.

A couple on an afternoon stroll late last month stumbled across such a find when they located the remnants of a ship that apparently sank long ago and came to rest on the Missouri side, within walking distance of the bridge that spans from the Boise Brule Bottoms of Perry County to Chester, Ill.

“On Sunday, Dec 23, we discovered the remains of an old shipwreck on the west bank of the Mississippi River, on the Missouri side, a little more than quarter mile south of the Chester bridge, between the bridge and the old Gibbar dry dock area,” said Donna Lintner, a Perry County resident who found the partially exposed ship.

“It is a wooden hulled vessel over 100 feet long with a little more than half still in the water,” she said.  “You can see old square-headed nails and spikes and a small pile of bricks that must have been part of the cargo.”

The bricks themselves found resting with the ship have a history all their own. They are stamped “LFB WKS” and below that “NO A.” This stands for the Louisville Fire Brick Works, a Kentucky based company that has been in operation for close to 125 years.

Based on the estimated age of the bricks, it is presumed the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company, formerly known as the Tennessee Paving Brick Company, located in Robbins, Tenn., forged them in the early 1900s at the Robbins Brickyard. The company forged bricks for many different regional plants.

The Tennessee Paving Brick company was formed when a large clay deposit, associated with a coal vein, was found during railroad construction in Robbins. In 1889 Adam Ott, together with William Lasley and his son T. H. Lasley, formed the clay manufacturing company.

According to information gathered by National Park Service Archeologist Tom Des Jean, from an article presented at a 2008 conference of the Society for Historic, the Tennessee Paving Brick Company sold its Robbins operation to the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company of Jersey City, N.J., in 1902.

“The plant was originally powered by steam but in 1925 this system was replaced by diesel engines, allowing brick production, which had formerly been at about 3,000 bricks per day to rise to an estimated 80,000 bricks per day, in the early 1930s,” wrote Jean.

“Paving brick was sold to northern and central markets (Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; Chattanooga, Tenn.), but by the late 1920s the company contracted primarily with southern markets (Miami, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Fla.).”

When the Great Depression hit, and the construction boom ended in Florida, the Robbins Brickyard fell on hard times, suffering a slow but steady decline.

“Attempts were made to save the Robbins plant by encouraging nearby communities to pave many of their local roads with Southern Clay Manufacturing bricks, all to no avail. The last bricks produced at Robbins were made in 1937 and went to Alcoa, Tenn.,” the Des Jean writes.

After the plant shut down, and Southern Clay Manufacturing filed for bankruptcy, its assets in Robbins were auctioned off and eventually purchased by a local investor and coal strip miner that logged timber and mined coal.

“All documents and records were collected and burned and only the remains of a few buildings are evident today,” Des Jean wrote.

Today, the site of the plant, its buildings and materials are slowly succumbing to decay, collapse and scavenging.

The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to respond to requests for information about the sunken vessel.

The ship discovered in Perry County is just one of many that have made an appearance this year, due to the low water levels.

The Southeast Missourian reported in September of a the remains of a shipwreck found along the Cape Girardeau shores that was “likely was a barge from around 1920 that may have been used in conjunction with paddle wheel boats.”

In St. Louis, a World War II minesweeper that served as a floating museum along the historic St. Louis Landing before being washed away by the historic flood waters of 1993, has also been uncovered.

“With the river so low this year, it has been fun to “beach comb way out on sandbars that have not been revealed for years,” Lintner said.


Courtesy Perryville News

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