Beginning this week (July 13-22, 2018), maritime archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society will be holding a field school in Little Sturgeon, Door County to train avocational archaeologists. The field school is two 4-day courses that will be diving the barge Advance. During this course they will be conducting a Phase II Archaeological Survey, which means creating a to-scale plan-view drawing of the site, and gathering diagnostic details of the wreck site to be used to determine National Register of Historic Places eligibility.
The students attending this field school come from Wisconsin Underwater Archaeology Association (Wisconsin), Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society (Minnesota), Chicago Underwater Archaeology Society (Illinois), and Maritime Archaeology Survey Team (Ohio).
The Advance barge built in 1871, was 141 feet long, 38 feet at the beam and with 11.5 feet depth of hold. It had primarily been a lumber barge in tow of the tug Boscobel for the Pestigo Lumber Company. When the lumber trade between Menominee and Chicago dwindled and became unprofitable, the Advance was purchased by the Leathem D. Smith Company and converted into a stone barge. Later in her career, she was equipped with derricks that made her into a lighter for their wrecking operations. On October 19, 1921 the Advance was lightening the load of the steel steamer Frank Billings, which stranded 3 miles southwest of Sherwood Point. While some 7,000 tons of coal were transferred to the lighter, a strong northwest wind forced the salvage tug to abandon both the Advance and the Frank Billings. Soon the Advance began leaking badly, and the captain wisely cut the lighter free so that she would go aground rather than founder. The five crewmen aboard the lighter Advance were rescued by the Coast Guard just before she hit the rocky point of Sand Bay. Three days later, the Frank Billings was released and went on its way, but the Advance was abandoned where she lay. Her derricks, wrecking pump, and 60 tons of coal were salvaged. Today the wreckage of the barge Advance is splayed out on the bottom of Sand Bay about 300 feet offshore in less than 10 feet of water.
At 7 PM on Thursday, July 19, 2018, the Door County Maritime Museum will host a community open house (Meet & Greet) highlighting the barge Advance project. This open house will be open to the public and give them a chance to speak with archaeologists and volunteers, getting a firsthand look at still and video images, the site plan, and equipment associated with underwater surveys. The event will offer the opportunity for local residents and visitors to ask questions about the project, maritime archaeology, and the importance of the preservation of Wisconsin’s submerged resources.