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U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy Dedicates Opening of Historic Exhibit at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at Basin Harbor

Tuesday, July 2, 2002—The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at Basin Harbor is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibit on the Valcour Bay Research Project, an archaeological study of the Battle of Valcour Island. The exhibit features never-before-seen artifacts raised from the bottom of Lake Champlain in 2001, including three large fragments of a cannon that exploded during the pivotal navy battle that took place on October 11th, 1776.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and LCMM Executive Director Art Cohn spoke at the opening reception on Monday at LCMM. The exhibit can be seen at the Maritime Museum daily from 10 A.M.–5 P.M. through mid-October, and then will travel to the Clinton County Historical Association in Plattsburgh, New York.

In 1999, New York State Police diver Ed Scollon made the extraordinary discovery of the exploded cannon from the Battle of Valcour Island. This triggered the beginning of the Valcour Bay Research Project, the first time that researchers and volunteer divers have begun to map the debris left behind at a submerged battlefield. The project is now beginning to reveal a more accurate picture of the events of October 11, 1776 than history books had previously recorded.

When the guns of the battle fell silent, an array of debris remained on the lake bottom, marking the trajectories of shots fired, artifacts lost or swept overboard, and splinters of planks and rigging shattered by cannon fire. For more than a century, the submerged battlefield at Valcour Bay saw numerous attempts to locate and recover archaeological materials, including the gunboat Philadelphia, raised in 1935.

Only in recent times has society begun to recognize the value of "underwater cultural heritage" and discuss how it should be managed, preserved and shared. On Lake Champlain this has led to a comprehensive program of survey, documentation, exhibition, education and public access, with widespread participation.

The Valcour Bay Research Project (VBRP) is a cooperative effort between a dedicated team of volunteer sport divers and the Maritime Research Institute of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The goal of this phase of the VBRP is the preservation and systematic mapping of the submerged battlefield that lies 40-50 feet below the surface of the lake. At the end of the 2001 field season, researchers had conducted over 500 dives on the site, and surveyed a total of 90,000 square feet of bottomlands. Fieldwork is expected to continue for several years. The VBRP has received support, encouragement and permits from New York State officials, the Naval Historical Center, the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Fund, the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service and the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Conservation treatment to ensure the long-term stability of artifacts is an important part of the Valcour Bay Research Project. On June 30, 2001, the research team undertook the recovery of key artifacts from the submerged battlefield to preserve them and make them available for research and for public appreciation. The recovered artifacts were immediately put under the care of LCMM conservators, and stabilized for their journey to the museum’s Conservation Lab at Basin Harbor, Vermont where they have been cleaned, treated and documented. To learn more about the conservation process, please feel free to visit or contact the Conservation Lab at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at 802-475-2022 or visit the LCMM website at www.lcmm.org.