Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ahnapee/Algoma and the Wind Ships

What a sight Lake Michigan must have been in the days of the wind ships. What it must have been like to witness 12 or 15 -  or even more - schooners riding at anchor in Ahnapee/Algoma harbor is nearly impossible to imagine. The likes of the Wren, Industry, Shaw, S. Thal, Whirlwind, Evening Star, Glad Tidings and Sea Star and more will never be seen again. However, the Lady Ellen lives on in the memories of those who remember part of her above the water near the southwest side of the 2nd Street Bridge.

As early as October 1866 Kewaunee Enterprise told readership that the amount of shipping in Ahnapee was "a revelaltion." In one day alone six schooners and one steamer cleared its bridge pier.

Lady Ellen sunk in the Ahnapee River

Built by respected Civil War hero Major William I. Henry, also Ahnapee’s most noted shipwright, the two-masted Lady Ellen was built of walnut that more than likely came from the area’s virgin timber. Henry built the schooner to join Capt. Bill Nelson’s Whiskey Pete in Capt. John McDonald’s stone trade, however she was used for lumbering operations, fishing and was also one of the Christmas tree ships. Put out of business by the steamers, the hardworking Lady Ellen was docked on the north side of the river about 200' feet west of the 2nd  Street Bridge where she eventually rotted and sank.

1883 Ahnapee Birdseye Map
It wasn’t only the Ellen. Henry designed the largest ship ever built in Ahnapee, the 105’, 173 ton Bessie Boalt. Henry’s shipyard was in a small bay, east of the bottom of Church St., behind what became the Algoma Dowell Co. and The Pallet Co., later Pier 42. It was Henry, the grizzled old seaman from Ahnapee, whose Civil War advances and retreats were carefully observed by the men from Ahnapee who credited Henry’s battlefield actions as saving their lives. Henry’s son William I. Henry, Jr. was another sailor, and it was he who sailed the Ellen for over 25 years, from 1871-1899.

The Ellen eventually sank in the river but was remembered by Algoma youngsters, such as Jag Haegele, who sat on the gunwales each winter while putting on ice skates. The schooner Spartan is another which sank in the Ahnapee River, forgotten until Jim Kersten began improving the lot on which Capt. K’s campground sits. Spartan remained where it sank on the southeast side of the 4th Street Bridge near the old Detjen dock for most of 100 years..
Removal of the Spartan from the Ahnapee River 

The Spartan, reported the Ahnapee Record in September 1885, was the oldest vessel plying the waters of Lake Michigan. Since construction in Montreal in 1838, the schooner had made all 5 Great Lakes and even sailed the Atlantic. By the time of the article, the schooner was laid up in the Ahnapee River, its final resting place.

It was only two months earlier that the Spartan was undergoing repairs in Ahnapee when a kettle of pitch on the cabin stove caught fire. Fortunately the damage was not severe, but when she was bound for Clay Banks two weeks later, exceptionally strong winds forced her to seek refuge in Ahnapee’s harbor for two days. By the 1st of October, the old schooner was allowed to sink in the Ahnapee River.

During 1890 the Advocate carried an article saying the Spartan was being broken up. Three years later the Record editorialized saying that the old Spartan was nearly rotted to the waters’ edge and that if it was not removed then, the work would be far more difficult. In April 1894, the paper again called for removal, this time saying that if much more was cut away from the old boat, it would not be self-supporting and that removal would be quite expensive. The paper felt that a powerful tug could lift what was left at substantial savings. The paper also encouraged the City to have the job looked at by one of experience. What the paper didn’t say was that there was too much diddling around by the City and failure to act was costing the taxpayers more as the days went on. As it worked out, it was Jim Kersten who took care of removing the boat in 1986, about 100 years after the boat was “laid up.”

Frank McDonald photo
As the photo indicates, Lady Ellen is west of the present 2nd Street Bridge and in some ice. Wenniger’s pump factory and saloon, last known as the Northside Tap, is the building with the high roof line right of center. The white building on the hill is Wenniger’s Wilhelmshoeh. By the time of this photo, Wilhelmshoeh was refurbished and sections torn off. It is now an apartment building.

The amounts of wood products to be shipped are evident in this Frank McDonald photo dating to before 1900. Writings prior to 1900 tell about wood products awaiting shipment as far as one could see all along the river’s edge from Ahnapee to Forestville. As the forest was cut, the river was left to bake in the hot sun and eventually seep into the surrounding area leaving the narrow, shallow Ahnapee River that exists today.

During the community's pioneer days - before the trees were all cut - it was possible to make Forestville by boat. Twenty years earlier, in 1834, Joseph McCormick and a party of men sailed upriver to today’s Forestville. Trees made the vast difference.

While wind ships have faded into the past. work, vessels such as lake freighters more than make up for them. One hundred years later, it is the old postcards telling the story.

Tow through Sturgeon Bay

Sources: An-An-api-sebe: Where is the Riverc. 2001; Ahnapee Rcord Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate; Kewaunee Enterprise. .
Photos: Frank McDonald; Kannerwurf-Sharpe-Johnson Collection

1 comment:

  1. I love the history. Thanks for the many great postings including this one.