Type: Wooden Propeller Steamer Size: 151.9 ft. x 20.4 ft. x 10.2 ft., 364.8 gt. Depth: 10 - 20 ft. LON/LAT: Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgOn September 25th, 1851 the steamer Monticello departed from the small mining location of Ontonagon with a cargo of barrelled copper in her hold weighing 50 tons and several large pieces of mass copper on her decks weighing 2 to 3 tons each. As she proceded down the Ontonagon River, the Monticello struck a submerged object believed to be a large pine tree. She was able to free herself and continued on toward the ports of the Keweenaw Peninsula. A few hours later however, three feet of water was discovered in her hold. Frantically, the passengers and crew began bailing, but the water continued to rise. When the passengers abandoned the futile task of bailing, the crew ordered them back at gunpoint.
Some hours later, the wind began to pick up, and large waves began to sweep over the decks of the foundering vessel. Being some miles offshore, the situation seemed hopeless. The heavily laden ship began to roll from side to side causing the passengers and crew to push the mass copper overboard. Luckily, the wind changed direction and began to blow the ship closer to the coast. With continued bailing, the vessel remained afloat until early the next morning when the crashing sound of the surf was heard. To everyone's dismay, the vessel was rapidly blowing toward a palisade of 75 ft. high red sandstone cliffs and the crew feared making a hard landing in the dark. The anchor was therefor dropped and the bailing continued throughout the long night.
When dawn broke, the anchor was raised and the ship plowed into shallows with such force that her smokestack was knocked off, landing on the deck. Fortunately, the vessel had come ashore at the point where a small creek had cut the cliff into a V which was perhaps only 20 ft. above them. In a dramatic rescue, a line was run from the ship to a large tree and a small lifeboat was pulled hand over hand along the rope through the pounding surf. Unfortunately, the boat struck a rock and the large hole which resulted had to be plugged with a bedquilt. With great effort, all crew and passengers eventually made it to shore. The worst however, was yet to come. Not knowing where they were, the crew and passengers had to hike North along the coast until they reached Eagle River, some 30 miles distant. Upon arrival at Eagle River, both passengers and crew were exhausted and suffering from exposure. In appreciation of their surviving this truly harrowing event, at Eagle River the following year the passengers and crew presented Captain John Wilson with a pair of engraved goblets made of Lake Superior silver.
The Monticello was one of the earliest steamers on Lake Superior. Launched at Fairport, Ohio in 1848, she was owned by Sheldon McKnight & Co. She had been dragged around the St. Mary's Rapids through the streets of Sault Ste. Marie in the Winter of 1851 because the Soo Locks had not yet been built. At the time of her loss, she was one of only four steam powered vessels on Lake Superior. The next year, salvors reclaimed her cargo and engines which were placed in the new steamer Mineral Rock. Interestingly, a fascinating first hand narrative account of the wreck incident surfaced in 1968 and was published in Inland Seas, the Journal of the Great Lakes Historical Society.
The remains of the Monticello are possibly in a debris field about 1.5 miles West of the North Entry and about 30 yds. offshore. The contemporary description of the shoreline in survivor accounts resemble this area. However, there is some confusion as to whether these remains belong to the Monticello or the steamer Bon Voyage which burned and came ashore in the area. An early reference to the wreck of the Monticello lists it as having "wrecked at Misery Bay 20 miles from Ontonagon." If this is the case, the Monticello may actually lie some 10 miles to the West of this site. Divers have also reported that the remains at this site show signs of burning and charring, further pointing toward the possibility of their belonging to the Bon Voyage. Another steamer, the B.W. Arnold also burned and came ashore in this area and at least 2 other vessels are known to have wrecked in the area. It is also possible that the remains belong to the Bessemer which wrecked in the North Entry Canal. Her remains and those of her consort Schuylkill were dynamited and clamshelled out of the canal by the US Army Corps of Engineers and dumped elsewhere. More research will clearly be needed to sort out the vessel remains along this stretch of shore.
The debris field by the North Entry consists of scattered iron remains. The most prominent artifact is a large ship's rudder. Ice has scattered most of the wreckage and much of the debris is buried by sand. This site must be dived in calm conditions or the visibility will be near zero. The site cannot be accessed from land because the area is privately owned. It is best accessed by putting in at the North Entry in a small boat. Divers should plan to go early in the morning before the lake kicks up.
References: Keweenaw Shipwrecks by Fred Stonehouse, Julius F. Wolff Jr.'s Lake Superior Shipwrecks, Shipwreck! by David Swayze, Inland Seas, James Jackman, William Reynolds, Milwaukee Public Library - Herman G. Runge Collection.