18th-Century Boat to Leave World Trade Center in Pieces Monday

By Julie Shapiro on July 21, 2010 9:52am | Updated on July 21, 2010 9:57am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — The 18th-century boat unearthed last week at the World Trade Center site is about to make its first journey in more than 200 years.

Starting on Monday, archaeologists will dismantle the ship’s crumbling wooden beams and move them to storage to study them further, said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority.

The work is scheduled to take five to eight days, but the Port Authority hopes to speed it up by adding double shifts.

After the beams leave the World Trade Center site, they will likely go to Hangar 17 at JFK Airport, which houses dozens of large artifacts of 9/11, including twisted steel columns from the Twin Towers.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which owns the site where the boat was found, will seek public comment about plans for the vessel, but the agency has not yet released a timeline or any details.

Coleman said the removal of the boat would not delay work on the World Trade Center site’s much-needed Vehicle Security Center.

Port Authority workers found the boat 20 to 30 feet below street level while excavating the center between Liberty and Cedar Streets last Tuesday.

Since then, the boat has captured the imagination of New Yorkers, who were surprised to learn that so much history could exist so well preserved just a couple dozen feet below the sidewalk.

A team of archaeologists from AKRF has been documenting the boat as quickly as possible, because the wood started deteriorating as soon as it hit air and light. The archaeologists are now keeping the boat wet and covered in protective sheeting so the beams will stay intact.

While AKRF will have more time to study the ship once it is off site, the team has already made some discoveries about its past.

The boat likely measured 60 feet by 18 feet and was either a small transatlantic vessel or a large coastal one, said Diane Dallal, director of archeology for AKRF. The portion uncovered at the World Trade Center is about 30 feet long, likely the bow, or front, half of the boat.

The boat was covered in protective sheeting Tuesday to keep the wooden beams dark and wet, preventing them from deteriorating.
The boat was covered in protective sheeting Tuesday to keep the wooden beams dark and wet, preventing them from deteriorating.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"We have the bottom, we don’t have the whole thing, but it still can give us a lot of information," Dallal said.

Dallal said the ship appears to be privately owned, which is especially interesting. While extensive historic documentation exists for larger vessels like warships or government boats, smaller privately owned boats like this one often sailed under the radar.

"We know so little about the mundane ships in New York," Dallal said. "It will provide information about the construction, the design, the utilization."

For more clues about the boat’s past, Dallal and her team will look at how the timbers are joined together and how they were cut, she said.

Dallal believes the boat was sunk on purpose, as part of the landfill that extended Manhattan’s shoreline west into the Hudson River. Her team has also found scraps of shoe leather, shards of dishes and other refuse from the turn of the 19th century.

As for whether another boat could be lurking in the mud under the site, only time will tell, as workers continue excavating for the security center.

"It’s always possible," Dallal said.

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