Roaring 20’s Boat ‘Liberty the Second’ Salvaged and Seaworthy

When Bill Houghton and Brian Simpson salvaged a speedboat of 1920s vintage from Lake Conneaut, Crawford, County, Pennsylania, they had no idea of the impact it would have on thousands of people in the Keystone State. Many Pennsylvanians rallied around the restoration of Liberty the Second, one of the fastest boats of the roaring 20s. More than 15,000 people gathered at Lake Conneaut in the summer of 1987 to see its rebirth. Today, they come to the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society Museum, Conneaut, Pa., to see the refurbished time capsule that was power boating’s entry into the modern age of hydroplanes.

Liberty the Second

Liberty the Second

“When we asked for permits from the Pennsylvania Historical Commission,” Houghton said, “state officials turned us down at first saying it was impossible to get the boat out from beneath tons of mud. But we proved them wrong, using a portable dredge to suck the mud out and then slipping straps under the boat to raise it to the surface. It took eight days working in 43 feet of dark water.”
Liberty the Second

Liberty the Second

The divers and Linesville Volunteer Fire Department personnel were greeted by cheers from hundreds of spectators who had gathered on the beach. The mahogany hull was in excellent condition–preserved in the mud and cold water–and the large white letters: Liberty the Second, painted on the side of the boat, could easily be distinguished. Smaller letters printed in gold read: H.N.S. for Harry N. Snavely, the wealthy owner and driver of the highly ranked speedboat.
Liberty the Second

Liberty the Second

The engine was an experimental design developed by the boat’s namesake, Liberty Engines of Pittsburg. The 450-hp, V-8 injection model was built in WWI as a replacement in Jenny trainer airplanes, but test flights proved the engine to be too heavy and powerful for aircraft. There were only 15 original engines built. Only two others exist today, one at Smithsonian Institute and the other at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Divers found the boat’s engine devoid of rust after more than six decades underwater. When the spark plugs were removed, some still had air compression in them.

After two years of restoration, the boat was launched in 1987 and circled the lake at 70 MPH. When it originally sank, the boat’s rudder—set in the bow rather than the stern–caught a small wake and the 20-foot-long flat-bottomed craft flipped, throwing Snavely and his mechanic clear. Fortunately, both escaped unharmed.

Liberty the Second

Liberty the Second

When it’s not in parades or on display at the annual Antique Wooden Classic Boat Show, the boat remains in the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society Museum. Curator George Rutherford says, “She’s always the queen of the show.”

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About Ellsworth Boyd

Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, pursues an avocation of diving and writing. He has published articles and photo's in every major dive magazine in the US., Canada, and half a dozen foreign countries. An authority on shipwrecks, Ellsworth has received thousands of letters and e-mails from divers throughout the world who responded to his Wreck Facts column in Sport Diver Magazine. When he's not writing, or diving, Ellsworth appears as a featured speaker at maritime symposiums in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Philadelphia. "Romance & Mystery: Sunken Treasures of the Lost Galleons," is one of his most popular talks.
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6 Responses to Roaring 20’s Boat ‘Liberty the Second’ Salvaged and Seaworthy

  1. Ethan Allen says:

    Awsome Professor, I saw a video of the boat on YouTube just the other day. Truly a great story.

  2. Ellsworth Boyd says:

    Many thanks Ethan! I did not see that on U-tube, but I’m glad the boat is still getting publicity. It was quite a discovery and the restoration was outstanding. Thanks again, Best regards, Ellsworth

  3. Dr. Robert J. Shocklely says:

    Dear Mr. Boyd,

    You never cease to amaze me with your excellent articles, your knowledge of wrecks, far and wide, your skill at speaking, and your association with the greats of the diving world! Keep those articles coming!

  4. Thank you so much. I appreciate yur kind words. If you get a chance go to Google and put in Ellsworth Boyd speech. It is the talk, about shipwrecks, that I gave at the Clive Cussler Collectors Society convention banquet on October 6.

  5. M Haushalter says:

    Thank you the article. I remember as a child standing on the hill of the gone Oakland beach hotel watching it pulled from the lake.

  6. Very glad to see the boat is still receiving praise. My personal
    Foundation provided some of the funding back in the 1980’s helped make the project successful. My thanks and admiration to those volunteers and the vision of Bill and Brian.

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