Low water levels in Mississippi River reveal shipwreck that's more than 100 years old

The boat started sailing in the late 1880s or early 1890s, and was used to transport people and goods across the Mississippi River. It later sank by a powerful storm in the 1910s.

BATON ROUGE, La. - The extremely low water levels of the Mississippi River have revealed a shipwreck that is more than 100 years old.

It was spotted by Baton Rouge local Patrick Ford two weeks ago while he was walking along the riverbank. He discovered the hull of a two-hull steamboat, similar to a pontoon boat or a catamaran. It’s 95 feet long, just over 10 feet wide and made of wood with large iron spikes and bolts.

According to Louisiana state archeologist Chris McGimsey, it belongs to a ferryboat called the Brookhill, which started sailing in the late 1880s or early 1890s. It was originally 250 to 300 feet long.

"She was big enough to put horse-drawn wagons on, herds of cattle, horses, pigs, whatever goods and commerce and people needed to go back and forth across the river here," McGimsey said.

The boat’s robust size, however, did not make it invincible. In the 1910s, a storm came through and sank the Brookhill where she was docked.

According to McGimsey, the conditions surrounding the Brookhill’s sinking allowed the ship to be well-preserved.

After the boat sank, it was covered up and filled with mud from the Mississippi River and cocooned the vessel from the usual aging factors of time and nature – waves, erosion and organisms that feed on wood.

The recent Brookhill sighting is not the first time the ship was seen by modern eyes. 

Low water levels on the Mississippi River revealed the boat in 1992, but according to McGimsey, only about 5% of the ship could be seen. This time around, nearly 80% of the vessel can be seen, as most of the mud that once covered it is now gone.

"A wonderful thing from our perspective, because we get to see her, but it's a bad thing from the perspective of the boat because now she's exposed to drying out, getting wet, drying out," McGimsey said.

He added that when the river rises, the Brookhill wreckage could be destroyed or be buried once again.

"So, 30 years from now, when the river goes down, she may or may not be here," McGimsey said.

For now, there are no plans to extract the boat from the river, so it'll remain nestled in the Mississippi River bed under the Louisiana sun. 

According to McGimsey, the Brookhill is a reminder that history is all around us.

"What's really fascinating about this particular discovery is for most people, especially kids, history is something you read about in a book, or you see a picture, or you go to a museum and there are things in a display case, but you really can't reach out and touch history," he said.

"Here, you could walk right up to this boat. You can touch it. You can climb in it. You can walk from one end to the other," he added. "It's a real opportunity for people to see and touch and feel history that you don't normally get."