When you’re walking on Crane Beach near Steep Hill Coal, you might be surprised to see lumps of coal lying on the sand. This would be quite a mystery were it not for the tragic history of brigs and schooners transporting coal in the 19th century.
Wreck of the Lucy M. Collins
It is almost certain that the coal came from the three-masted schooner “Lucy M. Collins,” listed in Merchant Vehicles of the United states as having been built in 1867 in Winterport, Maine. The ship had a gross carrying capacity of 159 tons (the ship’s volume). It may have suffered previous damage and was past its prime in a time when four and five-mast schooners were being built in the Penobscot shipyards. The Lucy M. Collins was bound from New York for Ipswich with 240 tons of anthracite coal when it struck the Ipswich Bar on August 19, 1891 and took on water.
William M. Varrell in Ipswich Revisited wrote that much of the coal was salvaged. A Gloucester company stripped the wreck of anything of value, and the hull was left to sink into the Ipswich Bar, where it remains today. Over the years it became apparent that so much coal had been spilled that the Newburyport Daily News published an article stating that “coal lines the bottom” of the Ipswich River.
Wreck of the Falconer
The following is shared by Thomas Franklin Waters in “Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony”:
“Anthracite coal began to be used in Ipswich about 1832, and in 1839 advertisements of coal stoves appeared in the Ipswich Register. But it is remembered that the first full cargo of coal did not arrive at the wharves until the early forties. The ill-fated brig “Falconer,” laden with bituminous coal, was wrecked on Ipswich beach, December 17, 1847. Seventeen of the passengers and crew were lost, twelve of whom lie buried in the High Street Cemetery in one common grave. “
The Falconer was transporting 350 tons of coal from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to Boston when a nor’easter caused the ship to drag anchor and strike the Ipswich Bar 3/4 of a mile from the rocky beach at the foot of Castle Hill, resulting in 17 deaths. This was the greatest maritime disaster in Ipswich history.
The coal wharves
What we found are lumps of anthracite coal, which can be distinguished from bituminous coal by its smoothness and luster. The primary deposits of anthracite of commercial value in the United States are in northeastern Pennsylvania, and this coal was frequently shipped by brig or schooner to New England. Jacob Brown, and Ammi Smith both had coal wharves near the town wharf in the mid-19th Century, and both dispensed anthracite coal. John S. Hovey’s wharf on Water St. was also a destination for the coal-laden ships. The Ipswich Bar, the River, and the small Town Wharf and Cove made Ipswich a hazardous destination.
Brown’s Wharf, site of today’s Town Landing: As early as 1641, this area was built up with wharves for shipping lumber, lime, sand, coal and granite.