The drought-stricken Mississippi River reveals a 19th-century merchant ship


A severe drought in the Midwest has reduced the Mississippi to its lowest levels, and more than 40 river gauges in the basin have reported low water levels, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Baton Rouge resident Patrick Ford told WBRZ he had been watching the river recede for weeks, but finding a boat was a surprise.

“I was out here this Sunday looking and I realized the rest of the shoreline was washed out and there was a whole ship there,” he told the station. “I immediately texted my friends and was like, ‘Holy moly, I think I found a ship, a sunken ship!'”

Ford then contacted experts and reported his discovery to Mississippi State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey, WBRZ reported.

McGimsey told the station that the remains of the ship had been known for a long time. The wreck was believed to be the Brookhill, a merchant ship built in Indiana in 1886, he said.

McGimsey said the Brookhill had a sister ship, the Istrouma. It was a day ferry crossing the Istrouma River, he said, while the Brookhill was a night ferry.

“On September 29, 1915, there was a big storm … both ships sank,” he told WBRZ, adding that the logs fell into Brookhill. McGimsey said the boarding was about 100 meters from where the ferry landing was.

McGimsey said an archaeological firm did some research on the remains when it was uncovered 30 years ago.

In 1992, “they did some limited research and were able to look at very small pieces — basically pieces about a foot or two wide — to try to understand how it was built and how old it was,” he said. he said “At the time, it wasn’t as exposed as it is now. It was still largely buried in mud and they had to do a lot of digging to get the little pieces out.”

The archaeologist said 90% of the ship’s remaining hull was exposed and would be examined to figure out how it was believed to have been built.

“For the most part, there’s no good documentation of boat building, especially when you get back into the wooden boat area,” McGimsey told WBRZ. “There’s a lot of individuality in these boats, and there are so few left. It’s a rare example of one from around 1900.”

Ford also encouraged people to keep exploring. “Explore your surroundings, find out where you live, what’s beyond what’s around you. Take a walk, see what’s out there,” he said.

The US Drought Monitor reports that more than 55% of the contiguous United States — an area home to more than 133 million people — is in drought conditions.

With the Climate Prediction Center predicting below-average rainfall through at least Oct. 23, rivermen like Ford may continue to find long-submerged treasures.