Treasure hunter finds 100-year-old sunken ship: ‘I had no idea what I was walking over’

The Mississippi River is at its lowest level since 1992, and that has treasure hunters scouring for trinkets washed downriver. (Source: WAFB)
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB/Gray News) - You’ll find treasure hunters like Patrick Ford along the banks of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River is at its lowest level since 1992, with treasure hunters like Ford scouring the lower levee looking for trinkets that might have washed downriver.

Ford said his latest find was a treasure too big for a treasure chest.

“I had no idea what I was walking over,” Ford said. “I looked back and saw it was part of the ship.”

Ford said he spotted a couple of broken posts jutting up from the mud. They were joined by a short plank that ended up being part of a shipwreck from the early 20th century.

According to Louisiana State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey, Ford stumbled upon an early Baton Rouge ferry boat called the S.S. Brookhill.

“If this is the boat we think it is, she sank on September 29, 1915,” McGimsey said.

The boat used to carry wagons, livestock and people between Port Allen and Baton Rouge’s business district.

However, there are few records about the sinking of the Brookhill. McGimsey said it sank in a storm when logs floating downriver crashed into the side of the boat.

The river probably washed away the boat’s deck, paddlewheel and the left side of the pontoon. Archaeologists spotted the remains of the Brookhill back in 1992, the last time the river was this low.

At that time, McGimsey said only about 10% of the boat could be seen. Currently, the river has scoured away most of the mud from the front portion of the flat-bottomed pontoon, exposing more of the vessel.

A team from the state is expected to visit the site to take measurements and make drawings of what’s left of the Brookhill. They said they hope to learn more about how the boat was built.

McGimsey said that in the late 1800s, most ships were built without blueprints. They were made more from a vision the boatbuilder had in his mind.

McGimsey said the boat’s condition and lack of historical significance make it a poor candidate for preservation, but Ford said he was happy to have found the ship.

“I find it so interesting that this ship was built so long ago, and it’s still here all these years later,” Ford said.

Ford’s find gives us a glimpse into Louisiana’s past - a real treasure - at least until the Mississippi claims it once again.