Texas Historical Commission confirms Neches River shipwreck dates back to World War I era

THC sonar data from 2019 showing the submerged hulls of two of the abandoned World War I vessels in the Neches River.

The summer heatwave and low rainfall recently revealed a hidden shipwreck at the bottom of the Neches River, but its location was known to the Texas Historical Commission since surveys in the 2000s, and the site is protected under Texas state and federal law.

The wreck, sometimes visible to boaters and others using the river, is one of more than a dozen vessels that had been abandoned after World War I.

Two of the wrecks were discovered, but not identified, in 1980 during a cultural resources management survey. Eight wrecks were reported to the THC in 2004 and a sixth was discovered during a cultural resources management survey in 2006.

The THC’s Marine Archeology Program also conducted an acoustic remote sensing survey of a 5-mile section of the Neches River in 2019 and documented more than 2 dozen shipwrecks including the EFC ships and other vessels. Altogether nearly 40 wooden-hulled EFC vessels are in east Texas rivers, comprising one of the largest collections of WWI vessel abandonment sites in the United States.

If you encounter these wrecks or other unknown underwater wreckage, play it safe and leave it alone. Many sites are protected under state and federal laws, which include penalties and fines for those who disturb these wrecks.

Additionally, the wrecks can be dangerous for amateur visitors who lack proper equipment and training. Additional information on these shipwrecks is presented in publicly available newsletters published by the THC:

The report of the 2019 THC investigation will be available after it is completed by the THC.

About the shipwrecks

The THC confirmed on August 22 that the shipwreck is one of more than a dozen World War I U.S. Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) vessels built in Beaumont and abandoned in the vicinity at the conclusion of the war. Many of these EFC vessels were unfinished and were often either converted to barges or sold for scrap material. The large wooden hulls, designed as steamships, were of the Ferris type and nearly 282 ft. long when constructed. The unutilized vessels were eventually abandoned in the Neches River and in Sabine River near Orange in the 1920s. Orange and Beaumont, along with Houston and Rockport, were the shipbuilding centers in Texas for EFC vessels built under government contracts.

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