Technology meets history in Sleepy Hollow

A Robotics Club student pulls the submersible ROV, nicknamed Ambrose, out of the waters in Sanborn Bay after rediscovering the sunken remains of the barge of the fabled Stella Marion steamboat in Newfound Lake. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
June 15, 2011
HEBRON�The world has changed dramatically over the past century. That was evident this past week in Hebron's Sleepy Hollow neighborhood on the North Shore of Newfound Lake, where more than a dozen high school students, using three submersible robotic R.O.V.'s (Remotely Operated underwater Vehicles), were scouring the bottom of the bay looking for the remains of a piece of Hebron's history � the barge of the fabled steamer Stella Marion, sunk in Sanborn Bay nearly a century ago.

The Stella Marion served as a passenger steamboat and mail carrier on Newfound Lake until it burned and went down off Pasquaney Bay on Aug. 27, 1915. The Stella Marion was rediscovered by scuba diver Bruce Porter in the 1970's, and has been the target of underwater investigations led by Plymouth State University Professor Dave Switzer since the 1980's, most recently several years ago, when students from the Robotics Club at the High School in Natick, Mass. traveled to Newfound with a self-constructed submersible ROV to revisit the site and rediscover the charred remains on the bottom of the bay.

Students from that same Natick High School Robotics Club were back last Tuesday to write another chapter in the saga of the Stella Marion as they searched Sanborn Bay for the barge that was scuttled by sinking so many years ago.

Before its demise, the barge, hitched to the Stella Marion by builder Ambrose Adams, his brother Alfred and his son Rodney, served a useful life, hauling pulp wood harvested in Hebron and Groton down the Cockermouth River to the southern foot of Newfound Lake, where it was bought by local paper manufacturers from the Mason Perkins Company in Bristol.

According to one account, written by Hebron Historian Ron Collins, the barge played a part in the social life on the lake, as well. Collins paints a romantic picture of summer visitors and locals using the barge for party occasions, decorated with Chinese lanterns strung from poles and hosting a group of musicians for the entertainment of the lucky passengers � the 19th Century version of the party boat on Newfound Lake. Some things change. Some things stay the same.

Assisted by kayakers and divers from the Underwater Naval Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., students located the sunken remains of the barge of the Stella Marion in 25 feet of water off Sleepy Hollow in Hebron last week. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
Knowing only that it was sunk somewhere off Sleepy Hollow on the North Shore of Newfound Lake, the robotics students were prepared for a lengthy search of the bottom of Sanborn Bay. Assisted by scuba divers from the Naval Underwater Warfare Center in Newport, R.I. and acoustic engineer Bob Drake, they were prepared for an extensive search.

Much to everyone's surprise, however, the students quickly located the remains of the barge, just a dozen yards or so off the shoreline of the Audubon Society's Paradise Point boat dock, submerged in about 25 feet of water.

Equipped with video cameras on each of the three submersible vehicles, the students were able to photograph and measure the barge where it lay on the bottom. According to their findings, the sunken barge measures 41 feet by 15 feet. Pictures of the barge were beamed back to the surface and recorded for posterity via laptop computers aboard the present day "party boats," which were piloted by current local Newfound residents in support of the worthy mission.

Underwater video from the expedition will be edited and made available to the Hebron Historical Society, or others who may be interested. Meanwhile, to mark the occasion, the students installed a ceremonial plaque, inscribed with the names of all the students who worked on the project. The next time divers search the site, they will know they were not the ones to reach it first. That honor is reserved for the enterprising team of Natick High School students and their advisor, Doug Scott, who accomplished the task on Tuesday, June 7.

So, another chapter of history is written by the next generation, using tools and technology that were inconceivable to the builders of the state -of-the-art steamboat Stella Marion at the turn of the last century. What next?

After the mission was successfully completed, the team of students were treated to a pleasure excursion on Newfound Lake by their local host, Dick Cowern. As they relaxed and enjoyed the scenery and a beautiful summer day on the lake, conversation turned to the future. It seems there is another legend... of a small summer cabin that was being pulled across the lake one winter by a team of oxen when it crashed through the ice and was sunk to the depths below...wherever could it be?

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