Storm-Tossed Ships: Lake Austin and Her ‘Sister’ Ship Lydia Ann | THC.Texas.gov

By Amy A. Borgens, State Marine Archeologist, and Hope Bridgeman, Marine Archeology Program Intern

The scow schooner Lake Austin seemingly had 9 lives: After surviving probably the most highly effective recorded hurricane in U.S. historical past at Indianola in 1886, it could function a rescue vessel throughout the later Galveston hurricane of 1900, solely to succumb to a lesser storm in 1903. Lake Austin was a median coastal dealer, and it’s typically the case that these “mundane” and “average” facets of each day life could be misplaced, silently relegated to the backstory of our historical past. In maritime historical past and archeology this may be the case with forms of vessels sometimes called vernacular or native watercraft—typically work boats, fishing vessels, and regional merchantmen. Lake Austin, nonetheless, transcends its slightly humble origins and has a permanent legacy that may be appreciated at this time.

The 56-ton Lake Austin was in-built 1881 at Matagorda, Texas. It was 69 ft lengthy with a breadth of 21.2 ft and a draft of 4.7 ft. It represented a prevalent kind of Gulf coastal vessel, often known as a Gulf centerboard scow schooner, simply recognizable by its shallow-draft rectangular hull, much like at this time’s barge hulls. Over its practically 20-year profession, Lake Austin carried cotton, lumber, and merchandise between ports in Texas and Louisiana, together with Rockport, Galveston, Port Isabel, Indianola, Brazos Santiago, and Port Charles.

Lake Austin survived the devastating Category 4 hurricane that made landfall at Indianola, Texas on August 20, 1886. The vessel went aground at 5 p.m. throughout the storm and each the crew and vessel had been saved. The hurricane resulted within the whole destruction or abandonment of Indianola, as soon as an important port west of Galveston, and different smaller coastal settlements and landings equivalent to Saluria, St. Mary, and Decros Point. The hurricane was closely harmful to small watercraft like Lake Austin.

Lake Austin was the primary vessel to assist victims of the highly effective Category 4 hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900, ensuing within the deaths of an estimated 6,000 to eight,000 individuals. This continues to be thought-about the highest-fatality pure catastrophe in U.S. historical past. Lake Austin braved the storm and rescued victims being carried out to the ocean on floating particles. Following the hurricane, residents escaped the devastated metropolis by reserving passage on the schooner to Texas City. One of the passengers, Mrs. Griswold, is credited as being the primary lady to go away town following the cyclone.

Only three years later, on November 20, 1903, Lake Austin would lastly succumb to climate occasions that had claimed so many vessels earlier than it, and which it had heretofore cleverly prevented. While en route from Lake Charles to Port Isabel with a cargo of 44,767 ft of tough lumber, Lake Austin and its crew encountered a norther off the mouth of the Brazos River and tried to journey out the storm at anchor. The cable parted and the vessel misplaced its finest anchor and proceeded in the direction of Aransas Pass. It was blown off beam whereas getting into the move and drifted into the south breakers. Crew from the U.S. Life Saving Station at Tarpon got here to their assist and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the vessel. Its previous hull may now not stand up to the toil of the heavy winds, rain, and sea and started leaking. It was run aground on Mustang Island a half-mile south of the move to stop it from sinking.

The masts of the vessel had been eliminated and relocated to a close-by park to maintain the wreck from being an excessive amount of of a seaside hazard. The insured cargo, largely timber, was additionally eliminated and positioned close to the dunes. There had been few sources for lumber in Port Aransas, so locals had eliminated lumber from the wreck to construct homes. Police had been stationed to protect the shipwreck and to make arrests to stop additional theft. One house constructed from the timber cargo was the Brundrett home, which was positioned on the nook of Brundrett and Alister Streets. The home had been moved a number of occasions over time, however after Hurricane Harvey it was too broken to revive and was demolished on June 7, 2018.

Lake Austin can be rediscovered 63 years afterward April 23, 1966, after robust north and easterly winds induced the tides to take away roughly 2 ft of overlying sediment and expose it on the seaside. Nueces County Park employees started excavating the vessel because it was mistakenly believed to be a Spanish ship. Police guards had been stationed on the wreck web site to stop theft whereas the ship was uncovered and being excavated. The vessel was flat-bottomed with each the masts and centerboards barely off-center. The maintain was solely about 5 ft deep and bisected by a keel wall. Two small cabins on the stern and two small storage areas within the bow had been separated from the cargo maintain by bulkheads. Bunks within the aft cabins had been mounted in opposition to the keel wall. There had been no portholes or air flow and no manner of getting from one facet of the maintain to the opposite with out first going as much as the deck. During the second day of digging, the vessel’s registration quantity (140442) was uncovered and the identification of the shipwreck was found by a analysis contact on the National Archives.

Through the county’s efforts, the vessel was absolutely faraway from the sand and it floated up towards the dunes throughout a excessive tide. There had been many various plans on what to do with the vessel, together with relocating the ship to the identical space that the masts had been positioned within the early 1900s and exhibiting it as a vacationer attraction. Despite the early pleasure within the shipwreck, curiosity within the vessel waned as soon as its extra fashionable identification was discovered. Two to a few months after the excavation of the vessel was accomplished, it was destroyed and burned as a hazard to site visitors. At the time there have been no legal guidelines defending antiquities on Texas public lands. The state antiquities legislation (the Antiquities Code of Texas) and managing authority—the Texas Antiquities Committee (now the Texas Historical Commission)—had been enacted and created in 1969 following the salvage of the Spanish vessel San Esteban.

Nearly a century after the sinking of Lake Austin and 35 years after its discovery, native efforts to construct a reproduction schooner commenced. The new vessel, named Lydia Ann, was designed as a functioning reproduction of a Gulf shore scow centerboard schooner like Lake Austin. Construction started in 2001 based mostly upon the hull of a vessel on exhibit on the Galveston and Trinity Bay Museum and on plans for a Gulf scow schooner drafted by Howard Chapelle from the Smithsonian Institution. Chappelle was a well-published naval architect on the establishment and a curator of maritime historical past. In addition, the Texas Historical Commission was requested for its file photographs of Lake Austin, to enhance these already owned by the Port Aransas Museum, to assist within the reconstruction. The Lydia Ann Project was transferred to the Port Aransas Museum in 2013 and is presently being constructed there in partnership with Farley Boat Works.

Miraculously in 2017, Lydia Ann didn’t meet the identical destiny as its predecessor and survived Category 4 Hurricane Harvey practically unscathed. The cyclone made landfall close to Port Aransas on August 25 with a storm surge of just about 12 ft in some areas. An estimated 85 % of properties and one hundred pc of enterprise in Port Aransas had been broken. Construction on the reproduction would finally recommence, however a lot work stays. A few fashionable additions to the vessel are anticipated, equivalent to an electrical motor and fiberglass coating to the skin of the hull. The 37-foot foremost hull and masts have been accomplished, however the rudder is unfinished and work on the gaffs, rigging, and sails has not begun. The hull’s general size is about 57 ft, with a breadth of just about 13 ft. The vessel is unfinished attributable to staffing and funding deficits.

Lake Austin, and its reproduction successor Lydia Ann, are consultant of the stalwart blue-collar work vessels that after significantly outlined the forms of commerce watercraft used alongside the Gulf Coast throughout the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth centuries. Despite its tragic destruction in 1966, Lake Austin stays probably the most full archeological instance of this commonplace work vessel but found within the northern Gulf of Mexico. Both vessels are indelibly linked to the usually harmful Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico storms that characterize the area. Beach archeological websites like Lake Austin are susceptible to not solely environmental impacts but in addition illegal accumulating and salvage. Precontact and historic websites, and their contents, on state public land are protected.

To report a shipwreck discovery like Lake Austin, please contact the THC state marine archeologist: amy.borgens@thc.texas.gov. The THC kindly acknowledges and extends due to employees and volunteers from Farley Boat Works and the Port Aransas Museum for his or her help with this text.

Suggested Reading (full listing obtainable upon request):

Austin Weekly Statesman. 1886. Indianola: Latest from the Ruined Town—Burial of the Lost. 26 August 15(40):1, Austin, TX.

Borgens, Amy A. 2011. Maritime Archaeology of the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Archaeology from the Age of Exploration to the Twilight of Sail. In The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology, Donny L. Hamilton, Ben Ford, and Alexis Catsambis, editors. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Chappelle, Howard L. 1951. American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction. W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY

Brownsville Daily Herald. 1903. Lake Austin Beached on Mustang Island. 5 December, 12(132):3.

Corpus Christi Caller. 1966. Hulk Identified as ‘Lake Austin’. 29 April:1.

Johnson, Malcom L. [1966] “Lake Austin:” A Coastal Trading Schooner. On file on the Texas Historical Commission, Marine Archeology Program.

Lester, Paul. 1900. The Great Galveston Disaster. Galveston Tribune, Galveston, TX.

Ramage, Margaret. 1966. Wrecked Schooner’s Cargo Built Port Aransas Home. Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 19 June:10.

Victoria Advocate. 1886. The Storm of August 20, 1886. In Indianola Scrapbook: Fiftieth Anniversary of the Storm of August 20, 1886, pp. 133–139. Victoria Advocate, Victoria, TX.

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