Vessel Type: Wooden Schooner Barge Dimensions: 127.0'x 26.0'x 11.0 ft. Tonnage: 263.83 gt. Description: 2 masts, square stern Build Info: Launched July 1862 at Clayton, NY by S.G. Johnson Official Number: 16345 Date of Loss: September 18, 1898 Place of Loss: Houghton Accident Type: Ashore, abandoned Depth: 0 - 20 ft. LAT/LON: 47.07.31'/88.33.01' LORAN: 31942.4/46640.2 Other: Broken but concentrated wreckage
On September 18, 1898, the steamer Kalkaska was towing the schooner barges J.H. Mead and Mediator from Duluth to Buffalo with deckloads of lumber when they were beset by rough conditions at Keweenaw Point. The heaving barges soon parted their towlines and were driven before the gale until they were thrown ashore about a mile west of the Gratiot River mouth. The plight of the two barges was seen the next day by the crew of the Portage Lifesaving Station who were on their way to the wreck of the steamer Colorado on Sawtooth Reef. When the gale abated, tugs went to work at freeing the two barges and both were again afloat by the next week. Although the Mead required only minor repairs, the cost of repairing the Mediator proved to be prohibitive. Her owners had her towed to Houghton where she was stripped and laid up in the canal. By 1902 she had sunk beneath the surface with only her masts and bow visible.
The Mediator had an interesting career. She was built in the Summer of 1862 at Clayton, NY on the bottom of the old schooner Sinbad. Initially, she had two masts, but later carried three masts. She was rebuilt sometime around 1883 and was almost lost in a stranding near Racine, Wisconsin in the Fall of 1888 when she was overwhelmed by a severe gale. She was towed to Chicago for extensive repairs with her decks completely awash and nearly foundered enroute. The Mediator was cut down to a tow barge sometime after this accident and was finally lost in that capacity.
Based on hull measurements and historical accounts, the Mediator's remains are probably just off the Michigan Technological University power plant. For years, local divers had attributed this large hull to either the Sailor Boy or the Morgan. A 1997 measurement of the remains however, indicated that the hull was over 120 feet long. This rules out all of the other vessels known to have been abandoned in the canal, and most others have already been identified. The Mediator remains are partially broken and disarticulated. They show more weathering than the nearby remains of the Sea Fox and Morgan, suggesting that they are older. The Mediator wreck is notable in that it breaks the surface near the bow section and for many years was partially exposed. She lies on the edge of the canal and is on an awkward angle. Another interesting discovery is that the hull and decks are fastened with metal braces. These may have been added in a subsequent rebuild.
This wreck is usually loaded with fishing lures and divers should be careful to avoid getting tangled in monofilament line. A number of gamefish can usually be seen around the wreck as well. Sediment is easily stirred up on the Canal wrecks and visibility rapidly deteriorates. Depths below 20 ft. in the Canal are also very dark and a divelight is a good idea. The Mediator is an interesting dive in that she affords divers an opportunity to see a rare example of pre Civil War schooner construction and is partially intact.
Future dives on the Mediator wreckage will focus on positively identifying the remains. A sitemap of the wreckage would greatly assist in the identification process, and finer measurements will probably yield conclusive information.
References: 1898 US Lifesaving Service Annual Report, Keweenaw Shipwrecks by Frederick Stonehouse, Milwaukee Public Library-Herman Runge Index Card, David Swayze Wrecklist, Mansfield's History of the Great Lakes, Julius F. Wolff Jr's Lake Superior Shipwrecks, Photo at Canal Park Museum