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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Byron Shipwreck (T. Thomsen photo, 2008)

Byron Shipwreck mosaic (SHPO, 2007)

Byron Shipwreck
Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County
Builder: unknown
Date of construction: 1849

The remains of the 36-foot schooner Byron rest four miles offshore in 135 feet of water. The small, undocumented commercial vessel was constructed around 1849 and sailed under the command of Captain William Burmeister of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Byron was run down and sunk by the schooner Canton in 1867. Representative of a relatively undocumented vessel type and trade, the Byron allows historians and archaeologists the rare chance to study Great Lakes lakeshoring schooner construction. Once a common class of vessels on Lake Michigan, the small lakeshoring schooners provided economic and cultural links between Wisconsin's developing coastal communities. Throughout the nineteenth century these small schooners occupied a special niche in the Lake Michigan regional economy.

The wreck was discovered in May 1977 when commercial fisherman Danny Burnette snagged the wreck with a trawl net from the fish tug Art Swaer 7 and brought up one of the wreck's anchors in their net. Word got out of a new shipwreck site and divers quickly relocated the site. In the years following the wreck's discovery, much of the vessel's cargo and equipment were recovered by recreational divers. Some of the items that were salvaged include a second anchor, the compass, yellow ware bowls, porcelain plates, and a small porcelain cup on which was written "A Present for a Good Girl."

Today, the Byron is almost completely covered with a layer of zebra and quagga mussels. The vessel's bow is pitched slightly downward at an angle of 2 degrees. Most of the outer hull planks are intact with the exception of the starboard turn of the bilge where a few planks are missing. Few deck planks are extant except for two small areas immediately around either mast, but all of the deck beams, hatch coamings, and cabin coamings remain intact. Although the vessel was reportedly filled with cargo when it was discovered, today there is no visible cargo or artifacts of any kind remaining on site. The hull is very lightly built - much lighter than expected for a commercial freight vessel. Due to its light construction, combined with over 140 years of lying on the lake bottom, the hull is extremely fragile.

State and federal laws protect this shipwreck. Divers may not remove artifacts or structure when visiting this shipwreck site. Removing, defacing, displacing or destroying artifacts or sites is a crime. More information on Wisconsin's historic shipwrecks may be found by visiting Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks website.

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