2.3.15

GRAVEYARD OF SHIPS.

A section of Lake Michigan near the Wisconsin shore is a candidate for designation as a National Marine Sanctuary.
According to records, 137 ships were lost in that region with only 34 known to divers and underwater archaeologists.

Among the historically significant shipwrecks within the proposed sanctuary are the two oldest ships in Wisconsin waters, the famous Christmas tree ship Rouse Simmons and the Niagara, a 225-foot wooden side-wheel steamer that caught fire and sank in 1856, taking more than 60 passengers to their deaths.

Wisconsin's oldest known shipwreck, the 95-foot, two-masted schooner Gallinipper was built in 1833 and foundered in 1851. The ship lies upright with an intact hull and one of its masts still standing. The Gallinipper has ties to early Wisconsin settlement and the fur trade. The Rouse Simmons, which has been featured in songs, books and plays, sank in November 1912 while carrying a load of evergreens from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Chicago. The Simmons sits in 165 feet of water, its cargo hold still filled with Christmas trees.

What makes the wrecks in that area of Lake Michigan so important is the large number and variety of ships. There are two intact examples of scow schooner, rare ships that influenced scow construction around the world. Two of the five known Wisconsin examples of double centerboard schooners, including the Rouse Simmons, are in the proposed sanctuary boundary.

The area includes two intact canallers, boxy vessels designed to squeeze through the Welland Canal locks with the largest amount of cargo. The best preserved example is the Walter B. Allen, which contains a relatively intact ship's yawl, the only known yawl boat in state waters. Plus the proposed sanctuary includes wrecks of several trading schooners that were critical to connecting small communities with larger markets around Lake Michigan like the Hetty Taylor, Northerner and Home, the second oldest known Wisconsin shipwreck.
The yet-to-be-located Griffon, the oldest sailing ship to have foundered on Lake Michigan, is unlikely to have traversed this part of the lake on its final voyage.  Before the development of the railroads, however, there was a serious coastal trade among the lakeside settlements of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

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