Steamboat "Henrietta"

Husband and wife team Ann Merriman and Chris Olson are shipwreck hunters, using high-tech gear and historic records to scour Lake Superior, Lake Minnetonka and other big bodies of water for wrecks.

Next summer they will begin surveying what may seem a less likely maritime route — the Minnesota River.

“On the Minnesota, there were many reports of sunk or snagged (steamboats), five or six at least,” Merriman said. “How much is left of them, no one knows.”

The steamboats that plied the Minnesota River from 1823 to near the turn of the century were substantial crafts — many 125 feet long, 25 feet wide, two stories high and carrying up to 160 tons of cargo and people.

Merriman and her husband founded the nonprofit Maritime Heritage Minnesota ( in 2005 to document and preserve the state’s maritime history. They recently received a grant from the state’s Legacy Fund to conduct sonar imaging of the Minnesota River from St. Paul to Henderson. A second round of funding would allow them to map from Henderson to past Mankato — which was generally as far as most steamboats could venture.

“We look for signs of steamboats, ferry remains, dock remains — anything made by people,” Merriman said.

They use a boat outfitted with downward and side imaging equipment that can identify wood and metal maritime remnants that can later be investigated. The couple hopes to find remnants of one documented wreck two miles northeast of Mankato; the steamboat Julia went down in 1867.

For the updated and complete version of this story see Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, print edition of The Free Press or sign onto our replica e-edition.

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