Type: Wooden steamer Length: 220.0 x 37.0 x 13.3 ft., 1391 gt. Depth: 15 ft. Location: L'anse LON/LAT: 46.45'32"/88.27'31"
Just off the municipal dock at L'Anse lies one of the Keweenaw's most interesting wrecks. Seldom dived because of her location, the Northerner offers an excellent archeological record as well as a fascinating history. She was built at Marine City, Michigan in 1871 by Morley & John J. Hill for Mr. J.M. Nicoll of Detroit and came out with official number 67128 as a two masted barge with a propeller hull but no machinery. She was constructed with large arched trusses running the length of her hull, and was used as a simple towbarge until 1880 when she was fitted with a low pressure 50" x 40" engine bult by S.F. Hodge in 1880.
On November 12, 1886 she was severely burned after stranding on the north side of the reef at Kelleys Island, Lake Erie, with a cargo of lime. She burned down to her hull as shown in this rare photo following the accident.
This began the Northerner's reputation as a hard luck ship. She suffered numerous accidents after this and despite being rebuilt she was plagued with crew problems. She was rebuilt in 1887 for Thomas Matham of Buffalo as a coarse freighter and valued at $75,000, with a double deck, gangways and steel arches. In 1890 she was again sold to the Rochester Transportation Co. of Rochester, NY. Marine historian Herman Runge recalled seeing her at Milwaukee unloading coal and described her as follows: "When I knew her in 1891, she had 3 masts, and a black stack with a broad red band and a black ball - she was here with coal; her home port was Rochester, NY."
The Northerner was then chartered by Ward's Lake Superior Line to carry package freight, and it was in this capacity that she met her end. On December 7, 1892 she was upbound under Captain Peter McKinnon with a cargo of barrelled oil and steel rails when she blundered onto Keweenaw Point due to poor visibility. Salvors were soon on the scene and after dumping 2000 barrels of oil from her cargo, she floated free. She was then towed to L'Anse where she was laid up for repair, while the thick sludge from her oil washed up along Superior's south shore all winter.
On December 11th, the Northerner burned in a suspicious accident that remains unexplained. While she lay at her dock, someone dropped a kerosene lantern in her lamp room. Still saturated with oil, the Northerner was an immediate inferno. As the fire approached the remaining barrels of oil, Captain McKinnon allegedly tried to prevent local firefighters from extinguishing the flames. Apparently, he was successful, as the barrels flared and spread the fire to the nearby dock and warehouse which were also destroyed. The Northerner could not be extinguished and had to be scuttled to stop her from burning. Captain McKinnon was immediately relieved of command by Captain John McCullough, but it was too late for the Northerner. She was abandoned where she lay, but salvors did recover most of her cargo of tempered steel rails. The Northerner was a loss of $50,000 and insurers were quick to scrutinize the behavior of the captain and crew. Arson was strongly suspected but it is unclear if any charges resulted.
Today the Northerner lies just off the municipal boat launch at L'Anse. She is in 10 -15 ft. of water and has substantial remains. Portions of her hull and frames remain as well as a good deal of machinery and tools. This site contains a number of small artifacts and tools which should be left for archeological survey. Like all the Keweenaw's wrecks, the Northerner is owned by the State and is monitored regularly. Please don't steal what remains.
In a sad development, the Northerner wreck was severely damaged by a construction project in the summer of 1999. Despite her historic nature and relative publicity, construction crews gave her little consideration and destroyed or removed significant portions of the wreck.
References: Milwaukee Public Library, Herman Runge Collection, Julius F. Wolff Jr.-Lake Superior Shipwrecks, Randolph Beebe, David Swayze Wrecklist, NOAA Chart #14971