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Sunken Ship That Helped Build Chicago Beaches and Field Museum Discovered

By DNAinfo Staff on April 16, 2013 6:24am  | Updated on April 16, 2013 9:26am

CHICAGO — The remains of a late-19th century ship — once used to pump sand to extend Chicago's beachfront and deliver supplies to build the Field Museum — has been discovered submerged near Michigan.

The skeleton of the 160-foot-long ship, the L.L. Barth, was found near Harbor Island near Grand Haven, Mich. Lower lake water levels aided the discovery, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association said.

The iron-clad, wooden ship — named after Louis L. Barth, an early executive with the Chicago area-based Edward Hines Lumber Co. — was built in 1889.

Hines used Lake Michigan to carry boats loaded with logs from forests around the Great Lakes to Chicago, where they could be turned into lumber at Hines' many mills here.

At some point, the Barth "was used to ship stone from Grand Haven to Chicago for use in lakefront building projects like the Field Museum," said shipwreck association director Valerie van Heest.

One historic photo dated July 21, 1916, shows a ship identified as the L.L. Barth delivering materials to the Field Museum. Though the museum opened in 1921, construction took years, according to a museum spokeswoman.

Others who owned the boat at various times included Chicago-based Morton Salt and Construction Materials Corp., which used it to pump sand from the bottom of Lake Michigan to extend Chicago's beachfront.

The ship was abandoned and sunk near the 141-acre Harbor Island in 1927. Today, just the hull remains.

Another ship recently discovered in the area has a Chicago connection: the Aurora, a steamer used in 1889 to tow the cargo schooner David Dows to Chicago.

"A storm came up, and the Aurora had to let loose the Dows. The Dows sank about seven miles off Chicago," said van Heese, author of "Lost and Found: Legendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks."

She said it was "very satisfying" to see the ships she had researched "in the flesh, so to speak."

The L.L. Barth was spotted using satellite images in January "and [we] took a quick look at it in person, then the snow fell," said van Heese.

"We returned in late March to document it further and confirmed the identity as the L.L. Barth," she said.

The L. L. Barth is on private property, which prohibits public access. But what's left of it can be seen by boat from the Grand River.