MAUCKPORT, Ind. — There is a shipwreck in the Ohio River that you may not know about, but is of significant importance to on Hoosier man who wants to save it from fading into history.
The Alice Dean was a steamboat used during the Civil War. It was captured by Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan to cross the Ohio River into Indiana from Kentucky where he conducted several small raids in 1863. Once the soldiers had crossed, the Alice Dean was scuttled and burned to the deck by Morgan.
What’s left of the boat now sits at the bottom of the Ohio River near Mauckport, Indiana, which is in southern Harrison County.
Clarence Merk is the man leading an effort to save the shipwreck. He wants funds to declare it a national historic landmark, raise it from the depths of the river, and to open a museum to display the wreck.
“This is a national treasure very few people know about,” said Merk to WISH-TV. “They’ve been to Gettysburg, they’ve been to Valley Forge, but they’ve never been to the largest submerged Civil War Navy sanitary ship in Indiana history.”
Right now the U.S. Navy still claims ownership of the wreck. That means that it would require federal dollars to fund a project to raise it from the riverbed. It could also cost millions which means it could be years before the Navy can work that money into its budget.
Merk has big plans for if/when that happens.
“We could purchase a piece of property out of the flood plain, within a mile or two of the Alice Dean, where that building is specifically designed by an architect to house, design, preserve and protect, freeze, reassemble and display the Alice Dean,” he said.
Back in 1959, a dam along the Ohio River broke near English, Indiana which lowered river levels to the point that the wreck was exposed and people would walk out onto it. Merk said that was a big opportunity for looting.
That’s a major reason why Merk wants to get more federal protections for the wreck. The Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004 makes it illegal for anyone to disturb a sunken vessel that is property of the federal government. The Alice Dean is covered under this law.
In 2014, divers with the Indiana DNR and Louisville Metro Police spotted the wreck, but since then it has been left untouched with little effort to salvage it.