Shipwreck blocks Corps levee repair in California
July 27, 2011
- Historic river ferry blocks needed repairs on Sacramento River levee.
- Corps archeologists oversaw underwater archeological dives to document shipwreck.
- Photographs and samples from the dives will help document shipwreck for posterity.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Pieces from a sunken ship at a planned levee-erosion repair site along the Sacramento River are nearly stable enough to become a permanent piece of history.
The pieces are the products of six data-recovering dives conducted from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7, 2009, directed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, and part of an intensive underwater investigation of the historic Clarksburg Ferry, which operated along the Sacramento River between Yolo and Sacramento Counties until it sank in 1928.
“It just so happens that this ferry is resting in an area where we need to place a bunch of rock to stabilize the levee,” said Sacramento District archaeologist Nikki Polson. “Because the ferry meets certain criteria, it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.”
The levee repair site is part of the Corps’ and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board’s Sacramento River Bank Protection Project, an ongoing, joint effort to strengthen levees along the Sacramento River. In a lawful intent to balance historical preservation concerns with the needs of federal undertakings, the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act ensures the Sacramento District will attempt to identify and resolve potential conflicts between their Sacramento River Bank Protection Project activities, public interest and historic preservation.
“We recovered enough archaeological data from the Clarksburg mitigation effort to document the existing remains of the ferry with measured drawings, photographs, video, and wood samples,” said Polson. “When we account for our projects’ environmental impacts and what we can do in return to minimize those impacts, sometimes the mitigation of historic resources is to learn as much as we can from something before moving forward with the project.”
The district’s data recovery and mitigation report from December 2010 is currently on file in the California reading room at the Sacramento public library and the Clarksburg branch of the Yolo County library.
Artifacts recovered from the dives and cataloged during the mitigation process have nearly completed a two-year curation process making them stable enough for public display. A possible location to display the remains would be in the Clarksburg branch, but the California State Lands Commission has the final say on the disposition of the artifacts from the historic ferry.
“We’re definitely interested in housing the historic artifacts from the Clarksburg Ferry, but I suppose it would depend on who has the final say and how much room it would take up,” said Becky Frame, Clarksburg library supervisor. “We’re kind of a small operation here, but we do what we can for the public, and we love what we do.”
Loving what they do is a shared sentiment among the people involved with the Clarksburg Ferry data recovery mission.
“I don’t really see myself with a different occupation,” said Polson, who has worked as an archaeologist for over 13 years. “Learning about the past is not only what I love - it's my job.”
The Clarksburg Ferry levee repair site is one of over 70 potential underwater resources identified within a 60-mile stretch of the river, tributaries and sloughs that may have to be further evaluated as part of the Sacramento River Bank Protection Project.