Under the surface: A history of sunken steamer ships

Every day, Coeur d’Alene Cruises boats take people on tours of the lake and local rivers. Our ships cover thousands of miles atop the water each year as we help people see the shoreline and wildlife of North Idaho.

But have you ever wondered what’s below the surface?

Lake Coeur d’Alene has many sunken ships below the surface. Steamships were used in the 1800s to transport people, mining equipment and logs during the timber boom. The lake was a hub of activity, with the big steam-powered ships running back and forth across the surface. However, when the ships were worn out, mining and logging companies sunk the ships to quickly get rid of them.

One popular dive site with more than five steamship wrecks is off Steven’s Point. Many ships were sunk when they were no longer needed, and ended up near the shoreline. Check with local dive companies for more information about scuba diving this site.

Many shipwrecks are also located off Independence Point. After the ships were rendered useless after years of service, they were stripped of all useful parts and used as docks for those lighting off fireworks during Fourth of July festivities. Many of the discarded ships are still intact, and scuba divers visit the ships, between about 40 feet and 60 feet deep, to see a bit of Coeur d’Alene history preserved.

Because of its rich history, there are even rumors of sunken treasure!

Legend has it, in the late 1880s, more than 150 tons of silver ore spilled off a barge at McDonald Point and sunk to the bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene. If the myths are fact, the mass of silver could be worth up to $75,000 today. There’s no way to know if it’s true, but local scuba divers always keep their eyes peeled, just in case.

What have you found while diving in Lake Coeur d’Alene — any sunken treasure or favorite sunken ship scuba dive sites? Let us know!

What’s below the surface — a glimpse at the history of sunken ships in the Northwest

Not only are the beaches of Lake Coeur d’Alene and other North Idaho lakes and rivers the perfect place to spend summer months, but below the surface, many of the Northwest’s waterways have stories to tell! Here’s a sampling of some of the sunken ships and treasures at the bottom of the lake:   

Sunken ships:

The bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene is home to dozens of ships that have sank during the past 200 years. Between the logging industry, steamer ships and tourists seeing the lake on old-time paddleboats, many boats have found their way to the bottom of the lake. The citizens of Coeur d’Alene even used to strip the steamer ships of useful parts, and use the boats as bases for the Fourth of July fireworks show off Independence Point in downtown. At the end of the night, the boats were set on fire and sunk — now scuba divers enjoy exploring the underwater boat park.

Naval equipment:

Lake Pend Oreille near Spokane is home to a U.S. Naval testing base that many locals are familiar with — since waters are so deep near Bayview, the Navy can train on and test submarines and other deep water equipment in the Idaho lake. But the base has come with its share of sunken items: an unarmed Navy torpedo is rumored to have sunk 50 years ago beneath 1,200 feet of water and a huge Navy barge with more than $1 million in equipment sank more than 1,000 feet below the surface in the 1970s. Because the items are so far down, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be dredged back up to the surface.

Oddities:

Divers in the more shallow waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille can scour the bottom for all sorts of treasures. Some may be new — car keys, sun glasses, watches or other items that have flow off boats or been dropped off docks, and sunk to the bottom. Even golf balls are not an unusual sight, having been hit off the Floating Green. However, some divers have found some obscure items too. One diver told the Spokesman Review about finding 25 Watling slot machines, all of which, he brought up from the lake bottom. The diver suspected the machines were dumped off a barge in the 1950s, when gambling was deemed illegal.

So whether you’re treasure hunting, scuba diving in the lake, or a boater, skimming the surface, think about all the strange items that have sunk during the past two centuries.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve found in Lake Coeur d’Alene or Pend Oreille? Do you have a favorite scuba dive spot? Let us know!