A collection of rusted metal retrieved from the waters off the coast of New Suffolk earlier this month has locals scratching their heads.
About two weeks ago, workers were replacing a bulkhead that had washed away during superstorm Sandy at the New Suffolk Waterfront located at the end of Suffolk Avenue when they encountered some large debris. After they pulled the three pieces out of the water, the crew contacted the landowners, the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, a not-for-profit formed in 2005 to protect the area from overdevelopment.
“We don’t know what we found,” said Patricia McIntyre, a longtime New Suffolk resident and co-vice chair of the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s board of directors.
Between the late 18th century and early 20th century, New Suffolk’s waterfront area was bustling with activity. It was home to a busy port, a thriving oyster and scalloping industry and a submarine base, according to the Waterfront Fund’s website. It’s also where the Navy’s first submarine, the USS Holland, underwent trials.
McIntyre said a local welder examined the pieces and determined the welding was very old, but couldn’t say whether the artifacts have any connection to the waterfront’s history.
The pieces are sitting on the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s property are visible to passersby. They are covered in rust and scalloped shells that have corroded into the metal. One of the artifacts, which measures four feet at its widest part, appears to be some type of gear, McIntyre said. The two other pieces are each six feet long, and one has a cylindrical shape.
When asked if the pieces found could be submarine parts, McIntyre said, “We haven’t ruled it out and we haven’t ruled it in.”
But after looking at photos of the objects Thursday, Robert Hamilton, of Electric Boat, a Connecticut-based company that designs, builds and services submarines, is blowing the submarine theory out of the water.
“They don’t look like they originated on a submarine,” said Hamilton, who conferred with a submariner at Electric Boat when making this assessment.
Electric Boat has ties to the submarine base in New Suffolk. The Holland Torpedo Boat Company, which designed the USS Holland, was absorbed by Electric Boat in 1899, the same year the submarine began trials in New Suffolk.
Hamilton said that the submarines that were docked in New Suffolk during the turn of the 20th century were not very big. So although, he said, one of the objects looks like it could be the foundation of a boat, it would have to be a very large ship.
“The pieces don’t fit the scale of early submarines,” he said.
Although Hamilton was pretty confident the objects are not submarine-related, he couldn’t figure out what they were. He guessed that the gear-shaped piece might be a type of belt driver.
McIntyre is welcoming the help of regional historical societies and other maritime experts who might be able to provide clues to crack the case.
She added, “We are anxious to identify the objects.”