Smith's Cove

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Box Drains[edit]



Truro Company (1850)

The first recorded search for the box drains is believed to have focused on Smith’s Cove. The natural advantages for this is at 495 feet away from The Money Pit on the Eastern end of the island it was believed to be the closest source of ocean water. Smith’s Cove was also suspected as the source of the water because some had observed an abnormal current of sand flowing at the center of this cove at times[1].

  • After shoveling and removing a layer of sand and gravel covering the beach, it was discovered that a bed of brown fibrous plant (later determined to be coconut fiber) 2 to 3 inches in thickness had been reached, covering an area 145 feet wide along the shore line just above the low tide mark and extending to the high tide mark.
  • This was the same kind that had been found in the Money Pit with the pod auger drilling the year before. Underlying this, and to the same extent, was about 4 or 5 inches of decayed eel grass. Under this was a compact mass of beach rocks free from sand or gravel.
  • A “cofferdam” was constructed to hold back the tide and allow for further examination
  • After removing the rocks nearest the low water, it was found that the clay (which, with the sand and gravel, originally formed the beach) had been dug out and removed and replaced by beach rocks.
  • Resting on the bottom of this excavation were five well-constructed drains formed by laying parallel lines of rocks about 8 inches apart and covering the same with flat stones.
  • These drains at the starting point were a considerable distance apart, but converged towards a common center at the back of the excavation.
  • Work went on until half of the rocks had been removed where the clay banks at the extreme sides showed a depth of 5 ft, at which depth a partially burned piece of oak wood was found. 
Dunfield Sketch courtesy of


Of course if we knew the purpose of the box drains it would be easier to solve the entire mystery.. So with everything on Oak Island there are theories as to why they are there, but nothing conclusive. 

Booby Trap (Flood System)[edit]

The most commonly shared theory is that the box drains filled with eel grass and coconut fiber were there to ensure that the flood system would not become blocked by the sand/dirt/clay defeating the entire flood system. Using 5 fingers even if a single one were to become blocked the other 4 would still do their job and provide water.


[2]Theory presented on Reddit: 

[3]After the middle ages passed, the first record of experimentation in filtering came from Sir Francis Bacon in 1627. Hearing rumors that seawater could be purified and cleansed for drinking purposes, he began experimenting in the desalination of seawater. Sadly, his sand filtration technique did not prove work for desalination, but later scientists would follow his lead and continue to experiment with this technique, followed by implementing the technology in early treatment plants.

Using a sand filter method, Bacon believed that if he dug a hole near the shore through which seawater would pass, sand particles (presumable heavier than salt particles) would obstruct the passage of salt in the upward passage of the water; the other side of the hole would then provide pure, salt-free water.

This theory may or may not coincide with the Baconian theories about hiding Shakespeare works as well. It is possible that he tried the desalination plant first, and when it didn't work he decided to use the pit as a treasure chamber? 

Salt Mine[edit]

Salt was once a very precious commodity due to the lack of refridgeration. There is a process by which you allow an area to flood with salt water and then evaporate off the water, repeating it multiple times allows the water to be highly concentrated with salt, which can be harvested. 

Attempts to Block / Remove[edit]

Truro Company (1850)

  • A “cofferdam” was constructed to hold back the tide and allow for further examination
  • An unusually high tide overflowed the top of the dam; and as it had not been constructed to resist pressure from the inside, when the tide receded, it was carried away. 

Is it possible that this is the U-Shaped Structure the Lagina team found in Smith's Cove? Dendochronology of the logs dated the structure to 1770s, which is certainly prior to Truro, but that doens't mean that Truro didn't use extremely old logs found on the island. 

Oak Island Association (1863) - As recorded by Israel Longworth in 1866:

“About thirty or forty feet of the drain was uncovered and removed, but as it did not tend to lower the water in West, or pumping pit in SHAFT #9, about thirty rods distant from Smith’s Cove the superintendent directed that the opened drain should be filled up with packed clay, and he thought this would stop the concourse of the water to The Money Pit. Before the claying process commenced, the water in The Money Pit and West pits was nearly as clear and quite as salt as that in the Bay, but while it was in progress, it became very muddy.   After the drain was sufficiently packed, three or four weeks were allowed for the clay to settle and pack before the pumps were started at The West Pit, when it was ascertained that the operation had been instrumental in diminishing the water by one half. However this proved to be only temporary relief as the tides soon washed the clay away.[4]

Oak Island ElDorado (1866)- According to James McNutt who worked on the island that year

  • The cofferdam was 375 feet long, 12 feet high and was situated 120 feet below the high-water mark in the cove. But like the one built in 1850, this dam was soon destroyed by Atlantic storms and abnormally high tides.   

There is no mention of building on top of the previous one, or discovering the U-Shaped Structure the Lagina team found in Smith's Cove.



'Oak Island Treasure Company (1897)

[5]Their plan was to setup off charges of dynamite underground near the shore.  This, they hoped would demolish the bothersome tunnel for good.  

  • Five holes were bored in a line about 50 feet up from the high-water mark at the Cove. They were spaced 15 feet apart. The first at a point 30 feet south of the presumed course of the flood tunnel, and the last about 30 feet north of that point. All but the third hole were bored to about 90 feet without encountering water.
  • They were crammed with dynamite and filled with water, which served as a plug.  When the dynamite was set off the water sprayed more than 100 feet into the air. 
  • The third hole apparently bored into the flood tunnel.  At 80 feet the auger struck rocks, and seawater immediately rose to tide level. This hole was filled with a huge 160 pound charge. 
  • According to Blair, when it was detonated the water in both The Money Pit AND The Cave In Pit “boiled and foamed for a considerable time, and after the disturbance subsided, the oil in the dynamite showed on the water in both of these pits.”   
  • While it seems the third hole had hit the flood tunnel the drillers were perplexed by the fact that the seawater this close to the shore wasn’t encountered until a depth at 80 feet. They concluded that the tunnel didn’t simply run in a direct line from the box drains in Smith’s Cove to The Money Pit, but that it first entered a sump hole that was around 75 feet deep and just inland from the shore, and that the bottom of that hole the tunnel ran at a very slight gradient to enter The Money Pit at a depth of approximately 110 feet. This reasoning, however ignored two important earlier discoveries. The watercourse had apparently been struck at 35 feet by SHAFT #5 in 1850, and again at 55 feet down in the Cave-In-Pit in 1894. One theory that has been suggested to explain the inconsistency is that there are perhaps two flood tunnels at different levels running between Smith’s Cove and The Money Pit. But a more reasonable explanation was offered by W.L. Johnson. His opinion is that the third drill hole didn’t exactly penetrate but came very close to it. Then, while the drill was at 80 feet, the water from the tunnel suddenly burst  across and into the hole at a higher level, creating the impression  that it had been struck at a depth of 80 feet.  But there was a bigger puzzle to contend with. The workers assumed that the huge charge of dynamite in that third hole had effectively choked off the water supply. Yet when the pumps were subsequently run in the Money Pit, they were barely able to keep  ahead of the incoming water. The blasting had had no appreciable effect on the flow from the sea.

Oak Island Treasure Company (May 1898)

  • In order to locate the position of the  drains, they put a pump on the south shore and pumped water from the bay into SHAFT #15 Their intention was to fill it above sea level and force the muddy water out through the flood tunnel and the inlet at the cove.
  • They filled the shaft to the top and, as anticipated, the water started falling back to tide level. But the ex­periment yielded an unexpected and horrifying result: the muddy water was bubbling out not at Smith's Cove but at about the low water mark on the south side of the island about 300 feet from the Money Pit.
  • The same thing happened the following day when red dye was poured into the pit. 
  • The searchers now had two known flood tunnels to contend with. Moreover, the southern tunnel must have had several inlets, as the muddy water appeared at three widespread locations offshore. Presumably this had been the tunnel that had caused the sudden flooding of SHAFT #15 at a depth of 160 feet. The discov­ery also helped to explain why the dynamiting of Smith's Cove a year earlier hadn't checked the flooding of the Money Pit. It wasn't known at what level this second tunnel entered the Money Pit, but it was presumably lower than the 160-foot depth at which it was encountered in SHAFT #15 

Blankenship (1970)

"On August 13th, we started the dam around Smith's Cove. The purpose of this dam is of course to more fully explore original workings. I am very glad that this course was recommended by Ben and agreed to by David. Personally, I have felt all along that this was the logical area to explore and quite possibly prove or disprove past history. According to the record, this beach was never thourghly and systematically explored and some evidence even after these many years should still be there. After all, if any one of these five drains are encountered, when followed into the beach, should lead to the vertical shaft that would almost have had to be there in order to make the flooding effective.

The dam took 13 working days and cost $5778.72 in direct costs, which included two dozers, on front-end loader, two trucks, all common labor and bags for sand and spikes for making log coffer cribbing, which were sunk with rock in order to stabilize the deepest part. Aug. 22nd we lost the end 30 feet due to a storm and Aug. 24th we lost over 40 feet and only succeeded in saving another 100 feet by taking emergency measures which included installing a 2in. continuous plank wall 4 ft. high and about 100 ft. long to save our earth from washing away.

The dam was completed August 28th. This dam is well beyond any previous one put up by earlier searchers according to the rocks that were left. The inside top of the road measures 450ft from original shore line and the outside is much longer. the base averages 60 or more and the top is about 15 ft. wide with remaining average high tide. Approximately 12,00 yds. of earth was used in its construction."

Wooden Structures[edit]

Dock / Wharf[edit]

The existence of a dock/wharf is widely documented, it is believed to have been used for boats coming to the island prior to the construction of the causeway. 


Overhead view of Smith's Cove features

Not nearly as well documented is the slipway. We know that much of it was uncovered when the first cofferdam was built at Smith's cove, but who actually built it, and for what purpose remains a mystery.

U-Shaped Structure[edit]

John Wonnacott- Notes[edit]


Commentary regarding Structure by John Wonnacott of Blockhouse Investigations

[6]In 1970 Blankenship had observed (and recorded in photographs) that the U-shaped structure had notches sawn into it every 4 feet along the base log and also along each “arm” that pointed toward shore. Each notch had a different roman numeral cut with a hand saw beside the notch. The bottom of each notch was 6 inches wide and pointed upward and shoreward at an angle of 45 degrees. Several timbers were also found, still attached to the base log, with their upper ends rotted off, with the lower end of the timber secured into one of the notches, with a 2 inch diameter oak peg. It looked like the timbers were used to support lateral planks that would have been caulked, to form a water-tight wooden structure.

  Many people have speculated that the U-shaped structure was built to serve as the inner water-tight barrier, that would have been buried inside an earthen cofferdam, to make it more permanent and more water-tight. We know that there were cofferdams built by Searchers in 1850 and again in 1866, in about the same location as the U-shaped structure; and quite possibly the U-shaped structure is partial remains of one of those searcher’s cofferdams. However the shape of the structure is a concern for me. All indications are that earthen cofferdams would be built in a smooth concave arc shape, stretching from one shore, out into the ocean as far as low tide or possibly lower, and then back to shore. Instead, the U-shaped structure has 2 asymmetrical arms that form sharp angles with the base log that runs parallel to the shore. I always ask myself: “Why would anyone build a water-tight structure in that shape – why not build it along the alignment of a cofferdam?  The sharp angles between the arms and the base log are a mystery to me.

 Another oddity in regards to this structure is that it does not line up with the artificial beach and the finger drain system. If the structure was part of a cofferdam, it would have been intended to either cut off the water supply to the finger drain system and flood tunnel that connects to the Money Pit - if it was built by a Searcher – or it would have been built to allow construction of the finger drains and flood tunnel if it was built by an original Depositor. 

Back around the year 2000, when I was working with David Tobias and Les MacPhie, we started talking about the U-shaped structure, wondering about its real purpose, and who built it. We decided that we should go back to Smith’s Cove at low tide, dig up the shoreward end of one of the U-shaped structure arms, and recover some pieces of it so that we could do some scientific testing to determine the age of the structure.

 So I used the old photograph of Dan Blankenship’s diggings, and I measured distances between large rocks to establish a scale factor, and then I went to the site where I marked out the probable location of the shoreward end of the north arm of the structure.  I hired a backhoe and with the help of two laborers, we started digging an 8 foot deep trench that should intersect the structure. We set up my portable water pump to keep the excavation reasonably dry and quite miraculously we found pieces of an old log in a matter of a few minutes. At first I didn’t think we had found the structure, because everything was covered in mud. But as soon as I washed off some of the mud, I could see notches with roman numerals beside them. We recovered 3 pieces of log, backfilled the trench and tidied up the site..
After carefully washing the log pieces, I collected a clean sample of wood from one piece and sent it off for radio-carbon dating. Unfortunately the lab test came back indicating a probable age of 1860 plus or minus 30 years. I had taken the wood sample from near the center of the log, with an average of 30 tree growth rings out to the outer edge of the log, so radio-carbon dating was saying the log was cut in 1890, plus or minus 30 years. This was not very encouraging, as I was hoping that the wood was much older.

 The next thing that was done, was to cut an end off one of the log pieces and send it off to a specialist in dendrochronolgy. That’s the study of tree ring growth, that allows researchers to determine the exact year that a tree stopped growing, by matching the pattern of tree rings in a log sample, to a master data base of tree rings which span a long time period. Each species of trees has a different pattern of growth, and each regional weather pattern would create a different growth pattern. So we needed to find a dendrochronological researcher who has a data base valid for Oak Island, and valid for the red spruce which was the species of log used to make the U-shaped structure. Again luck was not in our favor, and the dendrochronology researcher failed to find a match for our sample.

 So these two negative results discouraged me, and not much more was done on this front until 2015. However last year, when I was looking at the radio-carbon dating test results that the Lagina brothers obtained for a sample of wood they had had recently tested, I noticed two things. First, they used the same test lab that I had used 15 years ago (Beta Scientific in Miami). And secondly, the test result came back with five different age ranges. It seems that recent research into the Carbon-14 isotope concentration in the atmosphere has determined that the atmospheric C-14 concentration varied a lot in the past 500 years, and basically all radio-carbon dating results for objects less than 500 years old are unreliable.

 So I decided to go back to the U-shaped structure pieces that we recovered about 15 years ago, get a new sample and have it examined by a new dendrochronological researcher who has a much bigger and more detailed set of data bases for Nova Scotia tree species. I had donated the U-shaped structure samples to Danny Hennigar, for his use as displays in his Oak Island museum in Mahone Bay. So I asked Danny to help me get a new sample from one of those log pieces. Danny supported the new research completely, we got a good sample from one of the old logs and I sent the sample off for dendrochronological testing. And that’s where we are right now – waiting for a dendrochronology researcher to see if he can get a match with the new sample.  I say “we” because Les MacPhie and Danny Hennigar have supported this new research and have contributed ideas and suggestions all along the way.


Another theory[edit]

Retrieved from Unable to find the author to properly credit the source. John Frick (OI facebook fan site admin) has communicated with the author of this theory and presented many counter arguments which he believes disprove it. In an attempt to consolidate all theories in one location I have provided the story here for you to draw your own conclusions. My personal opinion is similar to Mr. Frick's, way too many coincidences for this barn roof to mysteriously land exactly centered on the box drains. I do think it is likely that the barn roof washed up on the shore and was re-purposed by searchers or depositors- but without hard evidence it's hard to say for sure. 

This document is written and published under the assumption the reader is familiar with the history of Oak Island, the treasure hunt, the treasure hunters and the various finds dating back over the last 220 years or so, and is here to explore alternative explanations as to what has happened on the island since Europeans started visiting Nova Scotia.

Documentation of looking for timber

One of the biggest mysteries in the treasure hunt history are the timber structures uncovered in Smith's cove by Dan Blankenship in 1970. Let's go back to 1850, the Truro Company built a cofferdam in the cove, located 5 box drains, made various attempt's to plug them, until the cofferdam succumbed to tidal action and collapsed. The work was well documented in several newspapers. But not one mention of any timber structures in any of the account's at the time, not one. The Oak Island Association made further attempt's to stem the supposed flow of water in from Smith's cove to the pits in 1863, And the Eldorado Company in 1866 also made several attempt's to block the drains in the cove. And still no mention of any timber structures. The only thing found apart from the box drains was a burnt piece of oak. Let's just go back to 1862 for a moment, now if you are familiar with the chronology of events on the island, you will know 1862 was a big year. Lots of men, lots of horses, the decision to bring steam powered equipment to the island, the need to build a wharf to transfer the equipment from schooner to land, and a lot of time to bring timber from Frog island, and Mahone bay to build the wharf and for cribbing. But wait, what about all the timber in the cove, why not use that? Because in 1850, and 1863, and 1866, it was not there.

The records to the left account of men going to Frog Island and Mahone Bay for timber.

Proof of timber wall construction

Several attempts were made to block off the drains by driving vertical planks into the seabed.

2019 excavation of U-shaped structure

The next photo is a screenshot taken last year on the tv show, The Curse of Oak Island. Note the vertical planks amidst the u-shaped structure, a searcher attempt to block of flood drains. Searchers could not have possibly driven those planks into the ground, and not seen the structure .

Hedden discovers structure

Gilbert Hedden is the first treasure hunter to find part of the structure in Smith's cove in 1936 (left) .

Having established the structure wasn't in Smith's cove during the mid 1800's excavations, but Gilbert Hedden discovers part of it in 1936, we must assume the structure materialized sometime between those dates. And this is where it gets really interesting. We know from dendrochronology tests carried out by Colin Laroque on timbers taken from the cove in 2018 that some of the logs had been cut from trees felled circa 1770 . There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of these tests, I have spoken to Colin, and other scientists regarding test procedures the dates cannot be disputed. So, how could it be, a timber structure, built from trees felled circa 1770 could be buried under several feet of mud in the tidal zone of Smith's cove, but it wasn't there in 1850 - 1866?

Dr Johns schooner

Dr Jonathan Prescott was the founding father of Chester, operating a sawmill as early as 1761, owning Birch Island, Meisners Island, 300 acres on Zink point, 2 lots on Oak Island, and Quaker Island. The good doctor also owned a rum distillery in Halifax, a fishing fleet, and resided and mixed with some of the wealthiest residents in the town. September 13, 1776, Dr Jon's schooner was moored at Quaker island, during the Patty incident, he owned the island, so nothing suspicious, in fact, the Prescott family would be the only owners of Quaker island, ever. After the Prescotts moved away from farming the island remained abandoned until 1884, when the first lighthouse was built .

Historical record of severe storm

In 1871 , a hurricane hit the coast of Nova Scotia, causing considerable damage to Chester, Lunenburg, and a tidal wave washing away a barn and several acres of land from Quaker island. A barn that would have been built during Prescotts tenure a 100 years before. Extract from The History of the County of Lunenburg" Several acres of land, with a barn and wharf, were washed away from Quaker island"

Historical record of severe storm

An account of the storm in the 1895 edition of the History of the County of Lunenburg authored by Judge Mather BesBrisay .




Historical record of severe storm

The hurricane responsible was storm # 8 in the 1871 hurricane season .

Destructive waves have washed away part of Quaker island, the barn and wharf, storm waves have carried the roof section across to Smith's cove and neatly deposited it in the hollow behind the old cofferdam. Follow up storm waves have carried a thick slurry of mud, and deposited it over the entire beach in the cove, thereby covering all traces of the structure until 1936.

Inside of a 18th century barn for reference .

In summary, Treasure hunters in 1850 - 1866 built a cofferdam around Smith's cove, found box drains, no mention of any timber structures . Timber samples taken from the U shaped structure and dated by Colin Laroque, dendrochronologist, were found to have been taken from trees felled in 1770. The structure is in the tidal zone, behind the 1850 cofferdam, buried beneath approximately 5 feet of mud. It appears to be on the same level as the bottom of the 1850 excavations, ie, it is at the same level as the vertical planks, a searcher attempt at blocking off flood drains as described above. Searchers at that time could not possibly have carried out the work they were credited with in various newspaper accounts without finding the structure. The structure has no foundations. My conclusion is this. The U shaped structure is the bottom cord of a barn roof, the barn built circa 1770 by Dr Jonathan Prescott on Quaker Island. In October 1871, a hurricane generated storm surge destroyed the barn and carried parts of it into Smith's cove, and depositing it behind the cofferdam built some 20 years previously, the same storm carrying tons of soil and burying the roof frame and filling the excavation behind the dam. Bizarre as it may seem, the U shaped structure simply washed up in a storm, buried in the same storm, and lay waiting until treasure searchers uncovered it and associated it with part of the mystery.