Loot Found In Canal

Staff photo/Mike Burkholder: St. Marys Ptl. Josh Boos and Tyler Kraner hold the items found at the bottom of the Miami and Erie Canal this week by construction crews.
By: 
Mike Burkholder
Managing Editor

A routine maintenance project turned into the discovery of a lifetime this week in St. Marys.
Crews working on repairing the canal boat in Memorial Park unearthed artifacts from the era when the Miami and Erie Canal was as popular as I-75 and U.S. 33. Several gold bars and nuggets, jewels, silver pitchers and a few necklaces were recovered from the site of the canal boat during the repair project. With the canal drained because of a handful of construction projects in the area, crews were able to uncover the items from the bottom of the canal.
Once crews made the discovery, the items were brought to the St. Marys Police Department. Police Chief Mark Ernst said the items represent a significant find for the city.
“We’ve had a lot of interesting items turned into us throughout the years but nothing ever of this magnitude,” Ernst told The Evening Leader. “Once we realized what we were dealing with, we get excited at the prospect of finding more out about the items.”
To authenticate and date the items, officials contacted Bert Maclin — a noted historian from Columbus who specializes in canal history. Maclin said the items were from a canal boat that sank during a fierce storm back in the 1870s. The boat was believed to be bound for Cincinnati as part of the pork trade when the vessel and its contents sank. The boat was later pulled from the canal.
“The gold bars have markings that put the items to that time period,” Maclin said. “The silver items are in remarkable shape considering they have been underwater and buried for close to 200 years. This really is a tremendous find for the city.”
Max Power, of the Federal Organization of Observing Land, said discovering remnants from old canal boats is rare.
“Given the amount of time that has passed from when the canal was used as a major mode of transportation until today, most of the items with historical value have either been found or covered up by urban development,” Power told The Evening Leader. “Examining what was found, I can say this is a pretty significant find. Canal boat captains typically carried gold bars as they were the preferred currency. The silver pitchers, those were probably purchased at one of the cities along the canal, possibly Toledo, given the markings.”
Attempts to track down the owners are ongoing. If the loot’s owner cannot be found, the items will be turned over to the city. Any proceeds from any sale of the items would be deposited into the city’s General Fund.
That could lead to quite the windfall. Nancy Mauter, of Hudson Jewelers in St. Marys, got the chance to appraise the items.
“We’ve seen a lot of things come through our door but nothing quite like this,” Mauter said. “Examining the items, we have been able to determine they are in fact real and are probably worth between $750,000 to $1 million. If offered at an auction, they could probably fetch twice that.”
St. Marys Mayor Pat McGowan called the find a major historical moment for the city. If the items become city property, McGowan said there are plans in place to showcase the historic find.
“This is something that will be linked with us for years,” McGowan told The Evening Leader after surveying the items. “It speaks to our history and how critical the canal was to our development.”
If the city decides to sell the items, the proceeds could fund several projects. Among them is the rebuilding of Gordon State Park — which sat near the east bank of Grand Lake St. Marys.
“We have had preliminary talks about bringing the lighthouse from Celina over here to the East Bank,” McGowan said. “We’ve also talked about improving the canal so that we can offer boat rides just like they did back then.”
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