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Shipwreck Found in Seneca Lake

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Rochester: Shipwreck Found in Seneca Lake
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You'd never know it was there from the shores of Seneca Lake: the treasure, and ruins, which lie beneath.

"Would have been nice, if someone had seen it, could have done a sketch,” said Jim Kennard.

Kennard has more than just sketches of the wreckage of "The Onondaga." He's seen it. Through sonar images, anyway.

"I've been searching for shipwrecks since the mid 70s. So, a long time."

Kennard and a partner located the old steamer while searching for sunken wrecks in the lake. They actually made the discovery two years ago, but confirming it took time.

"Because of the depth the image was really kind of fuzzy, and we didn't have the capability to get close to it."

The Onondaga was built in 1860; one of the largest steamers on the Finger Lakes. It was used to ferry soldiers to the south end of Seneca Lake during the Civil War, and later converted into a passenger steamer. By 1898, the boat had been docked. One of its final uses was housing quarantined smallpox victims.

"After that, the townspeople in Geneva decided let's make a big deal out of this."

So to send the boat to a watery grave, the Onondaga was loaded with 500 pounds of dynamite, 300 pounds of blasting powder and a barrel of gasoline.

"So it was quite a spectacle."

Flyers advertised it as such.

"There were three tongues of flame that came out from the Onondaga, and then this huge mushroom-like cloud went up 500 feet in the air."

By the time the smoke cleared, there was nothing left, except a smoldering piece of wreckage.

By all accounts it was a big deal, the day they blew up the Onondaga. Some 5,000 people, according to media reports at the time, lined the east and west shores of Seneca Lake; many of them getting there by train from as far away as Rochester, Penn Yan and Syracuse."

Locating a 110-year-old wreck in water hundreds of feet deep isn't easy. Kennard used side sonar to find the Onondaga.

"We brought it down to 400 feet."

The discovery north of Kashong Point is the latest in a personal quest that's turned up over 200 shipwrecks. Unlike most of them, this ship was sunk on purpose.

"What keeps me going? I think it's the thrill of exploration. I often equate it to being the first guy on top of the mountain."

Or, maybe more accurately, the bottom of the lake.

“Not a lot of shipwrecks have been, where you can say you're the first one who's seen it, so that you can write the final chapter."

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