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Mystery of sunken ships found in East Texas river solved

Earlier this month, a man found the remnants of large wooden boats just below the surface of the Neches River,setting off an investigation into where they came from.

SILSBEE, Texas — The severe drought across Texas led to an unusual discovery in the Neches River just north of Beaumont earlier this month. The wreckage of a large sunken wooden boat, perhaps several boats, was found just inches below the surface of the waters of the river.

Bill Milner was on a Jet Ski when he came across the wooden frame and other pieces of what had been a large boat. At the time, it was believed it could have been from an old barge or river boat.

He sent his photos to the Ice House Museum in nearby Silsbee, and the museum contacted the Texas Historical Commission in Austin to find out more.

Now, the mystery has been solved.

The sunken remnants Milner found date from World War I. As America entered the war in 1917, some of the ships for the war effort were made from wood, some 270 feet long and weighing 3,500 tons, according to the Texas Historical Commission.

But when the war ended, the construction – most of it at shipyards in the city of Orange in southeast Texas – stopped, and more than a dozen unfinished hulls were dumped into the Neches and nearby Sabine River in the 1920s.

The Historical Commission has documented several of the sunken hulls prior to Milner’s discoveries, even capturing a sonar picture of a hull several feet underwater.

The river runs for over 400 miles from northeast Texas to near Port Arthur on the Texas coast, and not only was a dumping ground for the World War I ships, but was an active shipping lane for barges and ferry boats in the 1800s. 

As the water level of the river continues to drop during the current drought, it’s expected that more underwater discoveries from the past are likely to reveal themselves.

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