Seal Cove Shipwreck Project Day Eight – Wrap up

Going into this project, we hoped to draw each frame in profile and gather historical information relevant to the wreck and the cove. We have exceeded expectations, and as project director I couldn’t be happier. We have put in long days and a lot of hours, but there has been some fun thrown in, with a few swims in Echo Lake, an occasional stop for ice cream, and a visit to Bass Harbor Boat to talk with Robert “Chummy” Rich.

Archaeologically, the shipwreck recording went better than expected. We have profile drawings of 35 components, an amended site plan, a complete fastener pattern for the outer hull, drawings of artifacts, as well as photographs of newly discovered features. The outreach portion was a success as well. I delivered a lecture at the Tremont Historical Society on Monday night, and throughout the week we gave numerous volunteers a taste of maritime archaeology. More than 20 people were involved in the project, including retirees, boat-builders, vacationers, fishermen, and Park staff. They helped to measure, draw, and photograph site features. We also received some press. Today we were visited by a reporter from the Bangor Daily News, who took photos and video. Look for us in Monday’s edition.

While the archaeology team recorded the vessel, Baylus canvassed several historical societies and repositories around the island, learning a great deal about Seal Cove, its shipping and industry, as well as its economic rise and decline.

Today, after the rising tide ran us off the site, we carried the gear up the trail for the last time. With the fieldwork finished, now for the hard part …I will spend the next several months inking the drawings we’ve done, adding new features to the site plan, and researching whatever I can learn about the vessel. Then we will begin writing an academic article about the site. Baylus will produce the history section, while Steve and I will write about the archaeology. In the meantime the entire team would like the thank the island’s historical societies, libraries, and all of the volunteers for their assistance, as well as the Institute of Maritime History, the Williams Mystic Maritime Program, and the National Park Service for making the project possible.

Seal Cove Day Seven – Objectives Reached

Today, Baylus continued to research the history of Seal Cove, while Crista, Steve, and I led volunteers and Park staff at the wreck site.

Under sunny skies, we finished profile drawings on the last of the frames ahead of schedule. This left us to use our remaining time to investigate other questions about the wreck. One is the placement of missing frames. Feeling in the mud on the easternmost unattached outer hull strake, we found fastener holes where treenails had held it to the frames. The vessel appears to be very heavily built, and today we confirmed that she was. Our investigations revealed a stout framing system, with short distances between timbers.

We also attempted to decipher fastener patterns in the keel. We will finish noting the location of all of the fasteners on the east side of the keel tomorrow. Hopefully this will tell us the number of frames, known as floors, that crossed the keel and were bolted to it. At present, we suspect that the keel is on its side, but are not sure if the east side represents the top or the bottom. Instead of a rabbet, a pointed triangular extrusion runs nearly the length of the keel, much to our consternation.

Earlier in the week we noted a submerged timber in a stream near the shipwreck. Resembling a knee or breast hook, it may be a structural component from the wreck. Each day, as the tide races in, we scramble to find a good stopping point for our work. Today we had just begun recording the mystery timber, and a potential floor from the site, when the tide poured in. The last of our measurements were truly underwater archaeology, as rushing water inundated our baselines.

Tomorrow we will draw cross sections, record outlying components, and put the finishing touches on the fieldwork.      

—Franklin H. Price

Seal Cove Day Six – Profile drawings and a small boat in the woods

Baylus Brooks continued to explore the local historical resources by visiting Mt. Desert Island Historical Society and the William O. Sawtelle Curatorial Center. Franklin and Crista led teams of volunteers and continued the profile drawings of the frames on the Seal Cove Shipwreck.

While standing on the wreck in Seal Cove, a keen-eyed observer can gaze south and on clear days, may be able to pick out amongst the brambles and brush of the surrounding forest a vague outline of another decaying vessel. Today, after obtaining the permission of the landowners, I led a team across the way to record this quickly decomposing vessel.

            My fellow students and I learned in graduate school how to record small boats. Unfortunately, we accomplished much of that recording under limited constraints. Unlike graduate school, however, we improvised the methods for the recording of this vessel under very different circumstances. For example, I had not been able to walk around or closely observe the vessel. I was not able to move, plumb, or otherwise disturb it even though it was laying on one side and lacking structural support, and I only had a few hours to prep and only one day to record. Despite these hardships, my team accomplished most of our goals.

            We started the recording by creating a scantlings list which is essentially an inventory of every observable component of the vessel with their measurements, drawings, and photographs. As anyone who has ever recorded a vessel knows, creating this catalog is no easy task. To record a simple deck beam actually requires numerous additional measurements beyond the simple dimensions. The deck beams are notched, chamfered, and fastened. Using gauges, calipers, and tapes, the volunteers painstakingly sketched and recorded these minute details.

            After spending more than half the day recording the scantlings, the group switched gears and set up perpendicular posts at the forward and aft ends of the vessel with a leveled baseline running between them. This enabled us to take offset measurements of the shape of the craft. To accomplish this task we used a vertical staff (method three, for the D.W. Dillion fanatics out there). By measuring the location of the staff along the baseline, and while keeping it plumb, the group took measurements off the line to the rod. Additionally, we recorded the height of the various vessel components (chine, outer hull, rub rail, etc.) and their distances to the rod. We repeated this process along the length of the intact portion of the vessel at four stations to capture pertinent information. This data may make it possible to partially reconstruct sections of the boat.

Other evidence from the fasteners made it clear that this vessel was modern in origins, but probably locally built, and likely a pleasure sailing craft that had undergone some repairs. Even though we did not record the small boat under ideal conditions, the fact that the boat is rapidly disappearing made the exercise worthwhile. Every wreck site represents a new learning experience and this one proved the axiom true. I learned how to adapt methods designed for museums to practical field environments and the other volunteers learned more about the components of a wooden boat. 

—Steve Dilk




Seal Cove Day Five – History Section in the Making


Today was all about outreach.  With new volunteers to train and frames to draw, the archaeology team made steady progress at the site.  Meanwhile, on the historical front…

Yesterday, I focused on learning about the lumber trade in Maine.  Two books explain this quite well.  Both are appropriately titled A History of Lumber in Maine – they merely have different dates: 1820-1861 and 1861-1960. 

Today, I trekked to the southern-most tip of western Mount Desert Island – Bass Harbor in Tremont.  There, across from the Underwood packing plant (recently  turned condominium) is the Country Store Museum.    The red-painted two-story structure itself looks original and is filled with many artifacts of interest.   It lays directly across the water from an old menhaden-trying operation that rendered oil somewhat similar to that of whale or porpoise oil. 

At the museum, I met with Muriel Davisson, a former president of the Tremont Historical Society who happened to grow up across the water and in sight of the museum.  The society’s information-packed search room is housed upstairs. 

The flood of new information thankfully confirmed my original hypothesis that Seal Cove’s economic importance faded soon after the turn of the century due to incoming industrialization – much of the community’s labor traveled south to Bass Harbor.  There was also a wealth of information on the genealogy of the families in Seal Cove, among other villages in the town of Tremont.   There, I found road petitions and orders that reveal families, businesses, their activities and locations.   It was an easy matter to visualize the look and feel of Seal Cove in the nineteenth century, especially with the aid of their photograph collection.  They had family portraits from the 1870s, many school photos, old and new, shots of ice cutting, lumbering, local sailors and their ships, even one of two men moving an outhouse with a small tractor on Dodge’s Point (south side of Seal Cove) – complete with its occupant – clothed, of course.  This trip is certainly worth repeating! 

—Baylus C. Brooks

Seal Cove Shipwreck Project Day Four: Limbers and Floors

With our Project Historian Baylus out following the scent of various historical leads, the Seal Cove crew continued measuring the vessel. With help from our generous local and park volunteers we covered far more ground than I originally expected to complete. Leading three teams we moved along the frames diagramming the metal fastener holes and the treenails.

Back at our apartment at Acadia National Park Headquarters, while our boots dried off in the sun, we reviewed the day’s discoveries, confirming with each other what we documented. We added new information to the project log, and further discussed the unexpected wealth of information acquired throughout the day.

Using a simple drawing compass we have confirmed that the limber holes are two inches wide. The exact size of the limber holes has been a topic of interest. It was unexpected to solve this perplexing problem with such an unassuming instrument.

Both frames three and eight show a promise to reveal the hull’s former shape, as they appear to be floors. Each frame includes two iron stained fastener holes on the inboard side. The flat edges at the inboard side appear that they would have rested on the keel, so we plan on measuring the angle tomorrow to gain a better perspective of the ship’s construction.

Throughout the vessel the team has located several uniform construction features, for example the treenails are one and a quarter inches in diameter, most ferrous fasteners are one quarter inch by one quarter inch, though there have been a few of varying sizes- but these are rare.

With all of this in mind, and the information we have yet to glean we are fast on the way to learning more about this vessel lost long ago here in a small cove on Mount Desert Island. We hope to share what we learn with the contemporary residents of the island.


—-Crista Shere

Seal Cove – Profile Drawings

Baylus Brooks went to Northeast Harbor and found more historic information on Seal Cove. At the shipwreck, volunteers and Acadia National Park staff joined the team members in drawing profiles and unmeasured cross-section sketches of the frames. Splitting into three groups (Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie), Crista, Steve, and Franklin assisted their team members by illustrating the proper documenting, measuring, and drawing methods necessary for recording the timbers.

As with many projects in the intertidal zone, thick mud inhibits mobility and obscures important details like the locations of limber holes and trunnels. Despite these modest hardships, the groups progressed steadily, finishing five frames completely and two halfway. Interestingly, the preliminary fieldwork results may illustrate some design features of the vessel. For example, the locations of the limber holes underneath the frames relative to each other could demonstrate design features. If the limbers line up, the frames might still be in their original positions. Post-depositional damage may have moved the frames making the locations inconsistent. Alternatively, the shipbuilders may not have placed the limbers in a straight line. Curiously, the holes seem small for a vessel this size, averaging about 2 ½ inches wide and 1 ¼ inches in height.

The trunnel patterning on the vessel is a significant source of information. Archaeologists have observed abundant wooden fasteners connecting outer hull to the frames, but also other pegs connecting futtocks to frames and there is a dearth of metal fasteners.  Toward the end of the day today, one team found a metal fastener in place with the head intact, the first of its kind on the vessel. As work progresses, the team hopes to make other significant contributions to the site plan and the archaeology of the vessel.

 —Steve Dilk






Seal Cove Day Two


Since the crew will be working for the next six straight days, parpicipants took the day off to explore the park.  After an evening of fun and relaxation, the crew was treated to a lobster dinner courtesy of a local fisherman.  Tomorrow, we will continue drawing profiles of the frames, this time with the assistance of volunteers from the general public  and Acadia National Park staff.


 As project historian, I will be visiting the William O. Sawtelle  Curatorial Center to study the wealth of their archives.  In the evening, Franklin Price will speak at the Bass Harbor Memorial Library.  This will provide an excellent opportunity to network with local historians that may wish to share with us.  The study of Seal Cove’s history has been a valuable experience, especially in light of the excellent aid offered by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society (MDIHS) and their recent collection efforts.  Archives at the MDIHS contain shipping records, personal experiences, newspaper files, and the rich photographic history of the island. 


The Heath Mill at the outlet of Seal Cove stream contributed greatly to the community at the cove.  Analysis of the lumber operations is being made to place the shipwreck in historical context.   Prominent nineteenth-century families include Heath, Reed, Norwood, Hodgdon, and Flye.  The first two generations of Heaths played a prominent role in the shipping and shipbuilding activities at the cove.  The third William contributed to the community itself by teaching, serving on the Tremont school committee, surveying, and marrying various couples as one of the local justices of the peace. 


Another local shipbuilder was Hiram Flye who operated a shipyard on the cove itself.  Many local historians are fond of Hiram Flye and his habit of not naming his vessels for people.  Ships built by him included the Northern Lights and Light of the East. 


The working theory that I have so far is that Seal Cove appears to have reached its apex in the mid to late nineteenth century and faded as more industrialized businesses entered the area, such as the William Underwood Company’s canning operations.  This drew the labor of Seal Cove  to Bass Harbor. 


With the decline of the lumber business by the early twentieth century, Seal Cove faded from economic importance.  A Bar Harbor Times article in the May 25, 1961 issue, titled “Seal Cove Once Knew Life of Economic Activities – Faint Traces Remain” found at the MDIHS helped me to establish this scenario.  My thanks to writer LaRue Spiker! 


— Baylus C. Brooks