Minnesota's Lake Superior Shipwrecks
Lake Superior Shipwrecks


Sailing Craft

Sailing craft recorded lost along the North Shore include the American Fur Company's Madeline, a 45-foot fishing vessel lost at Knife River. The Stranger and Charley, are believed to have been lost off Grand Marais and Beaver Bay, respectively. The Guido Pfister was wrecked on the South Pier at Duluth in 1886. The "powder boat" Criss Grover was lost near Castle Danger, and the Samuel P. Ely, smashed against Two Harbors' west breakwater in the fall of 1896. The tow-barge Amboy was lost at Thomasville in the Great Storm of 1905.

Given the violent nature of most shipwreck events and the high-energy conditions found along the Lake Superior shore, wrecks of sailing craft will have suffered damage to varying degrees. Post-depositional activity is another factor affecting the condition of wrecks. The Guido Pfister, for example, was dynamited during construction of new piers at Duluth in 1898, and major portions were removed. The Samuel P. Ely, though damaged by ice, is reasonably intact for more than half its length. The Amboy has been reduced to two sections of her heaviest framing.


Passenger and Package Freight Steamers

There are several passenger-type steamship wrecks in Minnesota waters. The passenger and freight propellers City of Winnipeg and Winslow both burned in Duluth harbor in 1881 and 1891 respectively. They burned at the docks on the waterfront and were later removed to other sites. The bottoms of both ships are all that remain. The City of Winnipeg was scuttled at some unknown location off Duluth's Park Point in 1898. The remains of the 220-foot Winslow can be seen at low water near Duluth's Hibbard Power Plant.

The much-smaller coastal packets Isle Royale (1879), Liberty (1889), and A. Booth (1882), all lie along the North Shore. These packets were especially important in North Shore history. The A. Booth and Isle Royale were lost in relatively deep water. The A. Booth is especially notable because of its ties to the firm of the same name, which eventually gained national renown.

The rafting tugs Bob Anderson (1862) and Niagara (1872), and the harbor tugs R.F. Goodman and Fayling are screw steamers among Minnesota's shipwreck resources. The two rafting tugs Bob Anderson and Niagara relate to an important era in Lake Superior history. The Bob Anderson lies off Colvill and the Niagara off Knife River. The large tug Niagara lies broken in two or three major sections on the east side of Knife Island. The Fayling was scuttled off Duluth harbor after removal of its machinery. Its hull is intact.

The ferries Stillman Witt (1849), Mary Martini, and Oden (1880) also lie in Minnesota waters. The Stillman Witt was one of the first steamers to operate at the Head of the Lakes. It was abandoned on the inside of Minnesota Point at Duluth around 1880. It was later buried in sand from nearby dredging activity and is not technically underwater. The Oden was a crude little pine-built ferry constructed at Fond du Lac. The Oden was either scuttled in the Lake or buried in harbor landfill around 1900.


Bulk Freight Steamers

Minnesota shipwrecks of the bulk freighter type include the steambarges Lotta Bernard (1869), Belle P. Cross (1870), and M.C. Neff (1888), the wooden bulk freighter Hesper (1889), the whaleback Thomas Wilson (1892), the iron steamer Onoko (1881), the steel Benjamin Noble (1909), the consort-barge Madeira, and portions of the Lafayette (1900). The Lotta Bernard played a role in the pioneer era of local settlement and was lost in relatively deep water. The Lotta Bernard is a rare example of the transitional side-wheel powered steambarges which were only built for a few years. The Lotta Bernard was five years old at the time of its loss, and never underwent any structural changes.

The Belle P. Cross represents the lumber industry of the North Shore at Gooseberry, where extensive rafting operations existed. Built in 1870, the steam-barge Belle P. Cross is among the earlier of its type, and is one of several sister steambarges specially designed for the Welland Canal trades.

The Madeira and Lafayette were engaged in the Minnesota ore trade and were among the losses from the famous 1905 "Matafa" storm. The schooner-barge Madeira, a 436-foot steel giant, succumbed to the storm at Gold Rock near present-day Split Rock Lighthouse. The Onoko was the prototypical metal-hulled bulk freighter. The Onoko was an enormously important vessel which demonstrated the far-sightedness of its designers and builders, and ushered in a whole new age of economical transportation.

The Thomas Wilson is an example of the locally-developed whaleback ships. The Thomas Wilson represents a vessel type of regional (Great Lakes) importance and particular local significance. Not only were the whalebacks symbolic of Great Lakes engineering audacity in the 1890s, but they were also one of numerous innovations made possible by the introduction of steel to shipbuilding. Its builder proved that these efficient ships could be built inexpensively by untrained laborers and compete effectively with traditional Lakes freighters.


Small Craft

No wrecks of historic small craft are presently recorded in Lake Superior, although the remains of one or two have been uncovered in the course of harbor improvements at Duluth in recent years. There are no known examples of Mackinaw boats despite their widespread use for at least a century. Numerous small fishing craft have been abandoned at Isle Royale where they may still be seen. Similar vessels would be expected at North Shore commercial fishing locations.


Adapted from the National Register's Multiple Property Documentation Form(MPDF) "Minnesota's Lake Superior Shipwrecks A.D. 1650-1945" by: Patrick Labadie, Brina J. Agranat and Scott Anfinson.


Minnesota's Lake Superior Shipwrecks
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