Anchor From 1906 Shipwreck Found in Florida

The steamship “St. Lucie” went down in a hurricane, killing 26 passengers on board

Anchor resting on sand under water
Because St. Lucie's hull was raised and repaired, the anchor is all the remains from the 1906 wreck. NPS / Pete Wintersteen

On October 18, 1906, the steamship St. Lucie capsized and sank in a hurricane off the coast of Miami. Twenty-six passengers died that day, making the wreck one of the worst maritime disasters in the region.

Now, researchers have located the anchor of St. Lucie, which rests on the seafloor of what is now Biscayne National Park, the National Park Service (NPS) revealed late last month.

Maritime archaeologist Joshua Marano found the anchor in July while showing two of the park’s summer interns around. They were checking out some of the 80 known shipwrecks in Biscayne Bay when Marano noticed a sea turtle behaving unusually, according to NPR’s Greg Allen. When he took a closer look, he spotted the turtle sitting under a six-foot-long iron anchor.

Marano knew the anchor was near where St. Lucie went down, but he later confirmed the discovery with additional research.

Because of the anchor’s size and the potential cost of conservation, the park will leave the artifact on the seafloor. However, staffers hope to create a digital version of the anchor, including a 3D rendering that can be shared online.

The park hosted the interns through the Slave Wrecks Project, an initiative of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The project aims to increase diversity in underwater archaeology and conduct scholarship on sunken slave ships.

Finding the anchor allowed the interns to practice some of their skills, such as performing detailed site documentation and identifying features of the anchor that indicated its age and the size of its vessel.

The interns, along with park staffers, also scoured local archives and newspapers for more information about St. Lucie.

Built in Delaware in 1888, St. Lucie was a 122-foot-long stern paddle wheel steamship with 14 staterooms and 3 decks. The ship could accommodate up to 150 people at a time.

For many years, St. Lucie transported passengers and goods on the Indian River between Titusville and Jupiter, Florida. Some of the supplies included fish, pineapples, citrus and lumber, reports Ed Killer for Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Eventually, though, the railroad became the dominant mode of transportation, and St. Lucie was relocated to the Florida Keys. There, the Florida East Coast Railway began using the ship to carry its workers and supplies.

On the day St. Lucie sank, the vessel was ferrying more than 100 workers, engineers and family members of railroad employees. As the ship made its way from Miami to Knights Key, it encountered a fierce hurricane. St. Lucie made it close to Elliott Key, located about 25 miles south of Miami, when it ran into the worst part of the storm.

The ship’s captain, Steve Bravo, tried to hug the coastline and even dropped several anchors in an attempt to withstand the storm. Despite these efforts, St. Lucie eventually succumbed to the wind, rain and waves.

Many of the ship’s passengers swam to the nearby island, but not all of them made it. At least 21 bodies were recovered, and many were taken to Miami for burial in the then-segregated Miami City Cemetery, per the NPS. The remains of several Black passengers have never been found.

In the years that followed, crews raised St. Lucie’s hull from the depths and fixed it up. For several years, the ship continued sailing through the Florida Keys.

“There’s actually very little left at the wrecking site, and [the anchor] is really the first substantial discovery associated with that wreck,” Marano tells NPR.

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