Rye shipwreck resurfaces

Posted on March 16, 2023

By Heidi Duncanson, Seacoast Science Center

History revealed itself again on a Rye beach this winter, when part of the hull of an old shipwreck was uncovered by a fierce winter storm. The remains of the Lizzie Carr, a two-masted schooner built in 1868, attracted a lot of attention just north of Concord Point on December 28, 2022 as people flocked to see this historic artifact. Part of the hull of this ship is already on display at Seacoast Science Center, acquired during a prior identification and excavation process in 2000.

Historic black and white photo of the Lizzie CarrIn January 1905, the 286-foot Lizzie Carr was carrying lumber from Calais, Maine to New York City when it ran into trouble. The ship with its crew of seven were off the coast of New Hampshire when they could see a Nor’easter was brewing. Captain Fred Merchant decided to dock the ship two miles south of Wallis Sands.

As conditions worsened, the Wallis Sands Life Saving station sent a crew to offer to tow the boat to a port. Captain Merchant declined in hopes that the storm would clear up but the next morning, a sudden gale pushed the ship onto the rocky shore. The hull broke open as the crew tried to cling onto the wreckage.

The Wallis Sands Life Saving Station first attempted to shoot off a line thrower to reel in the crew. After 4 failed tries, they attempted using a lifeboat but this was unsuccessful due to the rough seas.

Eventually, several nearby lifesaving stations teamed up and rowed to the ship. They found a crew of six people and brought them safely to land. All were treated for injuries and two were hospitalized but eventually all were released. One crew member, Frank Treen, was lost to the sea and never found.

The lumber the ship had been carrying washed ashore and was used for a variety of purposes around the Seacoast. Many Rye homes were built with this lumber!

Excavation of part of Lizzie Carr hull in 2000.The ship remained offshore until the spring of 2000, when a fierce coastal storm washed part of the hull ashore at the south end of Pirates Cove beach. At that point, no one knew what ship it might be so an archaeologist from Plymouth State University, Dave Switzer, came in to research and identify it. Switzer and his students were finally able to confirm that it was the Lizzie Carr.

Once the remains were identified, Seacoast Science Center was asked if it would be interested in displaying a section of the historic hull. Removing the section and bringing it to the Center proved to be quite a challenge. The hull was too heavy to lift with the backhoe that was brought in but eventually, the section was removed and transported to the Science Center.

Before it could be displayed, the wooden section needed to be thoroughly dried and that took a whole year! During a Science Center renovation in 2004, the hull section was installed inside and is part of the A Hurricane Hits Home exhibit in the main hall.

Now that the remaining hull has been uncovered again, there is a renewed interest in this piece of Rye history! You can view the preserved section of the hull at Seacoast Science Center anytime the Center is open, Wednesdays-Sundays from 10am-4pm.

To learn more about Seacoast Science Center’s exhibits and programs, visit https://www.seacoastsciencecenter.org/exhibits/.

Seacoast Science Center will be CLOSED today: Friday, April 5, 2024. Our utilities are currently down and need to get repaired before we are able to open for visitors. Thank you for your understanding. 

CLOSED today.

Seacoast Science Center is closed today due to inclement weather.