BAY SHORE, N.Y. – As Tropical Storm Ian whipped across parts of Northeast last fall, the former Category 4 hurricane helped uncover the wreckage of a possible early 19th-century ship along the New York shoreline.
The 13-foot by 13-foot remains of an old shipwreck were found on Oct. 21, 2022, by a ranger with the Fire Island National Seashore Law Enforcement. According to the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, the wreckage was once partially exposed in the dunes and had previously been observed by National Park Service (NPS) staff.
Before it was pulled ashore, the wreckage was located about 3 miles east of Fire Island's Old Inlet. Research on the wreckage began immediately, according to NPS.
"Our observations suggest the wreckage is from a relatively small ship constructed around 1820," NPS said in a written statement.
The wreckage's trenails, or the wooden pegs driven into the ship's planks to secure them together, suggest a ship of roughly 100 feet in length, NPS said. The few spikes found on the wreckage also date back to 1820.
While the Fire Island Lighthouse continues to consult with other experts regarding the identification of the wreck, researchers have eliminated known ships that wrecked farther west than this wreck's location.
"There remains a still significant number of known and unknown wrecks that have little to no documentation and will require further research," NPS said. "Of known wrecks, the steamboat Savannah has risen to the top as a contender."
The SS Savannah was built in 1818 just under the Williamsburg Bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Savannah Steamship Company purchased it before construction was complete. It is best known as the first ship to use steam power in intercontinental travel.
The ship ran aground on one of Fire Island's many sandbars on Nov. 23, 1821.
"While we cannot positively identify the wreck in question as the Savannah, we have not yet been able to eliminate it from consideration," NPS said. "The Savannah is one of the most well-documented and researched wrecks of Fire Island, and nothing yet contradicts our findings."
The Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society said this wreckage is an important piece of history. It also represents the hundreds of ships that have wrecked along the coast of Fire Island.
"Interpretation of the wreckage may potentially explore such topics as seafaring and navigation, the role of the United States Life Saving Service in the rescue and salvage of wrecked ships, goods, crews, and passengers, and the environmental changes that cause such wrecks to be buried and later exposed," NPS said.
Standing at 168 feet, Fire Island Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on Long Island, boasting more than 20 lighthouses in different styles and sizes.