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.
Two lumps of anthracite coal we found on Crane Beach
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 J. Barton wrote, “The wharf where the vessel was tied up was known as Glover’s Wharf. The vessel was delivering a shipload of coal to John S. Glover and carried about 350 tons of coal.”
A coal schooner at Brown’s Wharf, the location of today’s “Town Wharf.”
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 common grave of 12 crew members who perished in the Falconer is located at the northwest corner of the Old North Burying Ground.
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.
Wrecks of the schooners - These are photos of two and three-masted schooners, several of which wrecked at Steep Hill Beach, Crane Beach and Plum Island. Wreck of the Watch and Wait, August 24, 1635 - Many ships and lives were lost in the Great Colonial Hurricane, including 21 passengers who had set out from Ipswich on August 21, 1635 on a small bark named "Watch and Wait." As they rounded Cape Ann they were suddenly met by the force of the winds. Wreck of the Lucy M. Collins, August 19, 1891 - 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 […] Wreck of the Falconer, December 17, 1847 - On December 17, 1847 the brig Falconer, loaded with bituminous coal, wrecked at Crane Beach during a fierce winter storm. A dozen of the crew and passengers are buried in a common grave at the Old North Burying Ground. Wreck of the Edward S. Eveleth, October 1922 - In October 1922, the sand schooner Edward S. Eveleth rolled over when a wave rushed over her deck and pushed her onto the edge of Steep Hill Beach. Filled with sand, each tide buried her deeper. Her remains were visible for several years. The skeleton of the hull is just off-shore a short distance from the wreck of the Ada K. Damon. Wreck of the Deposit, December 23, 1839 - Dec. 23, 1839 two days before Christmas a storm caught the schooner "Deposit" on her passage out of Belfast, Maine. Capt. Cotterall was lost, and several of the crew were buried at the Old South Cemetery. Wreck of the Ada K. Damon - Christmas, 1909 witnessed the heaviest storm in many years. The ship was wrecked during the captain's first trip for a load of sand from the plentiful supply on Plum Island. The Spectre Ship of Salem - On the fourth day after the ship left port, the sun came out and in the distance could be seen the same ship sailing effortlessly back into port directly into the wind. As the Noah’s Dove approached, its passengers including the young couple were visible but ghost-like. The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar - The Ipswich Bar has a long history of tragic shipwrecks. Its swift currents and shallow waters are especially dangerous during storms, and many ships have gone aground. The hull of the Ada K. Damon sits on Steep Hill Beach. The Ipswich lighthouse - In 1881, a 45-foot cast iron lighthouse was erected at Crane Beach, replacing an earlier structure. By 1913, the sand had shifted so much that the lighthouse was 1,090 feet from the high water mark. Use of the light was discontinued in 1932 and in 1939 the Coast Guard floated the entire lighthouse to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel - In August 1635, the 240-ton Angel Gabriel sank in Pemaquid Bay after sailing into the most intense hurricane in New England history. Among the survivors were members of the Cogswell, Burnham and Andrews families, who settled in an area of Ipswich known as Chebacco. The ”October Gale” of 1841 - In the latter part of September, 1841, was a long, unbroken spell of uncomfortable weather, which culminated in a violent and cold storm of wind, snow and rain on the night of October 2, continuing four days. Hurricanes and winter storms - Featured image: Union Street in Ipswich after Hurricane Carol. Our friend Bill Sargent reminded me that Massachusetts has the highest probability of all of the states to be hit by an ocean storm, when you include hurricanes and nor’easters. Here are a few stories…