It took two decades to get the submarine wreck of one of the first gas-powered excursion boats on Lake George listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Joseph Zarzynski of Wilton said the wreck of the Forward, the 45-foot-long ship built in 1906 and powered by two 30-horsepower engines, was discovered in the 1970s by amateur divers.
Bateaux Below Inc., a group of six archaeologists and underwater enthusiasts, began searching for the wreck and located it again in the 1980s near Diamond Island, about four miles north of Lake George.
Since 1993, the Forward has been a site of a state-run scuba diving park developed by Bateaux Below Inc., which allows divers to study the wreck at 40 feet of water.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced this month that the Forward, a ship first owned by billionaire WK Bixby of Bolton Landing and St. Louis. Louis, Mo, has been included in the national registry.
The federal agency describes the Forward shipwreck as “a relatively rare and intact example of a first gasoline launch associated with the golden years of Lake George as a summer resort.”
The state park, recreation and historic preservation office had to review and recommend to the federal government the Forward application for national registration.
Zarzynski, who was a member of the team that investigated the archaeological and historical significance of the Forward, said the launch’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places is “unique.”
He said the Forward list is a “recognition that early twentieth-century shipwrecks meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places.”
“In the past, only 18th and 19th century shipwrecks on Lake George were designated in the National Register,” he said.
The Forward was built by Gas Engine and Power Co. and Charles L. Seabury & Co., Consolidated of Morris Heights, NY. . It closed in the 1950s.
Bixby, the first owner of the ship, was president of the American Car and Foundry Co. a St. Louis. Bixby’s son Harold was a financial patron of Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 transatlantic flight to Paris with the Spirit of St. Louis.
According to William Gates’ book, “Lake George Boats and Steamboats,” the Bixby family used the Forward for a family wedding in 1906.
Zarzynski describes the Forward as an “elastic limousine” with the driver in front and the seats in the back. The boat could travel 22 knots at full speed and had a removable canopy.
After the Bixbys, the Forward became a cruise ship operated by Leonard Irish and Alden Shaw. The Forward is credited with rescuing eight of the 11 passengers from the ill-fated “Miss Lake George” when that lake cruise caught fire and sank in 1929.
Zarzynski said it is not documented how the Forward found its way to the bottom of Lake George. Oral tradition includes a story that says the ship had survived its usefulness and was purposely sunk in 1930, about 1,500 meters east of Diamond Island.
The stern and bow of the Forward are still well preserved, but half of the launch is beginning to break down, Zarzynski said. Both engines continue with the ship.
The Forward is part of an underwater park called Submerged Heritage Preserves, the first shipwreck park for divers in New York State. The underwater park is managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and includes seven colonial boats known as the “Sinking Fleet of 1758” and the “Terra Tortoise, A 1758 Floating Gun Battery.”
“The Forward is probably the most visited shipwreck,” Zarzynski said.
He said that in the late 1990s the Forward reservation was improved through a grant to Bateaux Below Inc. of the George Lake Fund.
The refurbished reserve now has a number of underwater information stations on the ecology and geology of the lakes and is called the Forward Underwater Classroom.
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