Earlier this month, a man who was jet skiing in eastern Texas on the Neches River stumbled across debris below the surface, which came out to be the remains of a historic wooden vessel — potentially five — from the WWI era.
Bill Milner reported to the local news outlet KVUE that he was not sure what he saw, but he could tell it was a large vessel. Milner also sent photographs of his find to the local Ice House Museum, which contacted the Texas Historical Commission.
The latter confirmed that the remnants belonged to massive, wooden-hull vessels built during WWI for the American Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation. The ships were later abandoned in the Neches and the Sabine Rivers in eastern Texas.
The unusual tale of the shipwrecks started in WWI when German subs were making headway sinking the US merchant vessels in the Atlantic, per the Ice House Museum in a Facebook statement.
There was a severe concern that the loss of merchant vessels would impede their abilities to get material for the war, as well as food and other items required by the American individuals.
The US Shipping Board established the Emergency Fleet Corporation in 1917 to build wooden vessels in the 19th-century style with steam-driven, advanced engines that could be made at older shipyards. Most of the modern shipyards were at capacity building 20th-century steel vessels with internal combustion engines, the museum reported. There were metal shortages during the war, therefore, the widespread use of timber.
But when the war ended in 1918, the outdated wooden vessels that measured approximately 280 feet in length became obsolete overnight, and the US government struggled to sell them off.
The reason one finds these in the Neches is that when the war ended, the vessels sort of lost purpose, per Amy Borgens, the experienced state marine archaeologist associated with the Texas Historical Commission, informed the Texas Standard on their public radio show. It was difficult for the government to have buyers for wooden-hulled vessels then. So these vessels, many of which were constructed at about $250,000 each, some were sold for about $1,000 for the salvage of iron and wood.
The vessels, built in Beaumont (Texas), were abandoned in rivers, where the government would permit the salvagers to get whatever they could from the timber and iron, per the Ice House Museum.
Currently, there are approximately 20 vessels at the bottom of the Neches and an additional 15 in the Sabine; many of these have earlier been known to the Texas Historical Commission, Borgens informed the Texas Standard.
The Texas Historical Commission mentioned in a Facebook statement that the summer heat wave and low rainfall reportedly revealed this hidden shipwreck. The zone in Texas where the vessel was found is under immense drought, per the US Drought Monitor.
Susan Kilcrease from the Ice House Museum informed the Insider that they firmly believe the remnants Milner discovered and took pictures of belonged to five vessels.
The museum mentioned a newspaper article dating to 1924 that reported that six ships had caught fire in the Neches River north of Beaumont and then burned down the waterline. Kilcrease said that they understand that the recent discovery may be those vessels.
Borgens informed the Texas Standard the ideal way to preserve the vessels is to let them be, strongly emphasizing that the public must not try accessing the sites of shipwrecks.
References: Business Insider
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