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Seeing Underwater…

“So spooky to see boats just sitting on the bottom, waiting for the end of time”, was the reaction of one of the visitors to the Thousand Islands Museum of Clayton.  In fact that will be the reaction for many who visit the Museum during the month of October, for this is the first time a major exhibit of underwater material will be available for those fascinated by shipwrecks.

The exhibit, “Shipwrecks of the Thousand Islands” is organized by “Thousand Islands Area Scuba Divers”, with the assistance of Dennis and Kathi McCarthy of Cape Vincent and Skip Couch of Clayton as well as the museum staff.


Some of the highlights will be a video production of 16 shipwrecks, a series of underwater photographs and several museum artifacts, some being put on display for the first time.  Each piece tells its own story:

  • In 1889, the Rothesay collided with the tug Myra off Prescott, Ontario and 60 passengers were removed before she sank. The display will have the Rothesay’s porthole and several baggage claim tokens as well as a photograph of the ship before she sank.
  • Before the Thousand Islands International Bridge was built in 1938, the General Hancock, once a car ferry for Governors Island off New York City, was used by the Hutchinson Brothers as a ferry from Alexandria Bay, NY to Rockport, Ontario. The ferry was abandoned near Mandolin Island where some of it is above water.  Several years ago divers in the region retrieved a porthole from the Ferry General Hancock  and it too will be on display. 
  • When the steamboat Fannie, sank off the Rock Island Lighthouse in the late 1800's, she was carrying a cargo of pork barrels.  A model of the Fannie was built in 1882 by Charles Roof when he was 16 years old.  His grandson donated the model to the Museum and related that his grandfather use to have a steam engine in the model and he motored it in Chaumont Bay.
  • There is an apron owned by one of the women passengers of the steamer Sir Robert Peel. The apron was appropriated by Captain Bill Johnston on the morning of May 30, 1838 when he and his men captured the British owned Sir Robert Peel, removed its passengers, set the steamer on fire and then sank her!  Bill Johnston (known as Pirate Bill) gave the apron to his daughter, Kate. Kate gave the apron to Juliana Hawes, sister of her husband Charles Hawes. At Julia Hawes Marshall’s death, the apron was given to her granddaughter, Miss Marie Marshall, of Clayton. The apron is in excellent condition; being only slightly torn at the corners. It is 30 inches square and is made of tan colored silk elaborately embroidered with a floral pattern. The apron, now in a glass frame, was donated to the museum by Miss Marie Marshall, of Clayton.
  • Another highlight of the display are several underwater photographs of two other ships which sank in the River: the ship Roy A. Jodrey, and the steamer Islander . The photographs were donated to the Museum by Hunt Dive Shop, Clayton

The video, created by Dennis and Kathi McCarthy,  cycles through images of 250 years of Thousand Islands’ shipwrecks, showing contemporary photos, drawings and current underwater photos.  Some of the wrecks presented are the following:

  • The schooner Maggie L, the workboat Squaw and the steamer Grandview all located underwater off Clayton
  • The three-masted wooden schooner A. E. Vickery  found off Rock Island Lighthouse
  • The steamer Oconto  found off of Granite State Shoal
  • The side-wheel steamer Islander located near Cornwall Brothers Store
  • The Roy A. Jodrey, which sank off Wellesley Island in November 1974
  • The General Hancock, found near Mandolin Island
  • and the steel vessel Keystorm  found near the Outer Scow Island.

The display  will run through the month of October.

By Kathi and Dennis McCarthy

Kathi and Dennis McCarthy are active members of the Thousand islands diving community and are the owners of Blue Ledge System Inc. which recently published five books, relating to diving and/or the history of the Thousand Islands. To see a TI Life profile of this very industrious couple, please see our March 2011 article, Kathi and Dennis McCarthy’s Discoveries … 

Dennis also provided  Protecting “One Dive at a Time”  in this month’s issue of TI Life.


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