Lake Michigan Sunken Ship Placed on Historic List

Ship that sunk in Lake Michigan in the 1800's is now a historic landmark

Monday, Jan 2, 2012  |  Updated 12:28 PM CDT
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A Lake Michigan ship that sank in 1880 in southeastern Wisconsin has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The canaller Walter B. Allen sank in a storm in April 1880 about seven miles from Sheboygan. It's upright in about 170 feet of water.

"This ship is remarkably intact. It's one of the best preserved in Lake Michigan," said Jim Draeger, deputy state historic preservation officer at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.

Putting the ship on the register will let the public know these kinds of ships exist in the Great Lakes and it also protects the property under state law, he told the Sheboygan Press.

According to the society's Maritime Underwater Archaeology, the Walter B. Allen was called a canaller because it was built to fit through the Welland Canal locks that connect Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, bypassing Niagara Falls.

It was built in 1866 and was the largest of the canaller class of schooners built on the Great Lakes. It typically shipped grain from Chicago to Buffalo or Oswego, N.Y., and then returned with coal.

It was while on the Chicago-to-Buffalo run, loaded with 19,000 bushels of grain, that it ran aground on April 11, 1880, on South Manitou Island at the north end of Lake Michigan in a storm.

The ship lost its large anchor and mainsail. A tug from Manistee, Mich., came to help release her, and a steam pump, valued at $4,000, was placed on her deck to help her get to Milwaukee for repairs.

While in tow, a snowstorm pushed waves over the ship, filling her to the rail and extinguishing the fires of the pump, according to the state historical society. The ship sunk within 20 minutes. All aboard were rescued.

Draeger said the designation is also important because it educates the public about the importance of Great Lakes shipping to Wisconsin's history.

Mike Hansen, 45, the owner of Maritime Divers in Manitowoc said because of the ship's depth, no diver can reach it.

"Anything beyond 130 feet of water is considered a technical dive. It's not a dive that any diver can or should do. You have to have some specialized training," Hansen said.

He said the ship seems captured in time.

"It's a very pristine shipwreck," he said. "Until a couple years ago it was almost completely intact, until one of the masts fell over."

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