Rock Island Side Trip June 11 2013

Steamer Saugatuck at Rock Island (from Washington Island Archives)

Washington and Rock Islands -

Part of the explanation for my blogs being intermittent this winter, even though I officially consider myself "half time"at the Ferry Line office and therefore partly retired, is that I've been working on a history I'm calling Thordarson and Rock Island.

This has been an enjoyable project in many ways, and I've learned a great deal about the former owner, his life, and how Rock Island was changed by him, and in turn how he and his family were influenced by Rock Island. (Most readers know that for almost 50 years Rock Island has been a Wisconsin State Park.)

For nearly seven years, off and on, I've collected Thordarson information.  I've transcribed letters into computer files and written original text about them.  During this process I've discovered many surprising connections, and each involves a side trip from the main subject.  This is one of the pleasures of the process, but side trips also become another reason for the time it takes to put it all together.

I've made announcements about finishing this projects to others before, partly to spur myself to meet a deadline.  I didn't realize I had so much ground yet to cover.  But now, I think I'm really getting close to a draft that's readable and "almost" error free.  Spring is upon us, according to the solar calendar, and summer's not far off.  I need to wrap this up before time runs short, with work and distractions aplenty.

Thordarson came in contact with many fascinating people, and a good number of those associations are supported with documents, primarily letters.  I won't post information here that will appear in the book, but there are plenty of other things to write about.

In this blog I thought I'd post a few old boat photos.  These were found in the Thordarson files at the Island Archives, and I'd guess that either Thordarson or a family member took them as these boats came into the Rock Island pier.  According to one letter, an early pier was under construction around 1914 so that he and his workers would have a safe place to land, unload materials, and moor a boat.

No names or dates were printed on the reverse side of these photos (typical and unfortunate, because this is the case for nearly every Thordarson photo).  I contacted friend Eric Bonow, who recently reported back aboard an ore boat at Bay Shipbuilding to start the 2013 sailing season.   Eric always enjoys unraveling a mystery.  He's collected maritime ship images and he also searches collections belonging to others in order to identify vessels.


In the first photo shown is the steamer Saugatuck.  It's moored alongside Thordarson's pier, perhaps after discharging freight and maybe Thordarson himself, who found it convenient to take a train from Chicago to Escanaba, then a boat across upper Green Bay to his island estate.

Saugatuck, steaming from Rock Island. Photos probably taken same day. (from Washington Island Archives)

The Saugatuck ( 110 x 22.2 x 8.6) was built in 1909 and was originally the Alfred Clarke.  Among its owner history was the Canadian company Pelee & Lake Erie Navigation Co. of Ontario.  The boat made its rounds of several  owners and locations before it came under ownership of Captain Charles McCauley and John J. Cleary, of Escanaba,Michigan.  McCauley in late 1913 wrote Thordarson and asked if he'd like to be a subscriber in his new venture.  We don't think Thordarson took him up on his offer, but a few years later, with McCauley still operating his boat, Thordarson asked for the vessel trip schedule so that he could coordinate his arrival by train in Escanaba with a departure for Rock Island.  (Undoubtedly an extra stop for which Thordarson might have paid extra.)

The Saugatuck eventually wound up in Chicago where it was abandoned and sunk in the North Avenue Basin of the Chicago River.  Later, it was scuttled (intentionally sunk to get rid of the old hull) in Lake Michigan.


Eric wrote that the Hyacinth (160.6 x 28 x 14) was a predecessor to the familiar Coast Guard buoy tenders (Sundew, Mesquite, Acacia, etc.) we used to see in Green Bay waters.  And although we can only guess at the dates on these two vessel stops at Rock Island, it seems to fit in, more or less, around 1920.

The Hyacinth was built in 1907 by Jenks Shipbuilding, Port Huron, as a lighthouse tender under the Dept. of Commerce, U. S. Light House Service.  The vessel likely was making a call at Rock Island for the Pottawatomie Light, located on the island's north end.

Light House Service vessel Hyacinth, perhaps around 1920, at the Rock Island dock. (from Washington Island Archives)

According to the vessel data sheet Eric supplied (which he obtained online from the Alpena County Public Library) the Hyacinth transferred to Coast Guard command in 1940.  Then in 1946 it served as a construction vessel for the Lyons Company of Whitehall, Michigan.

That company installed a new 900 hp GM diesel, and in so doing it may have attracted the attention of Cap Roen of Sturgeon Bay.  In 1956 he bought the Hyacinth and removed the engine, and put it into his tug John Purves (now a restored museum ship at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay).  The following year the  ownership of the old hull was shown under Sturgeon Bay Iron & Metal Company (Roen's next door neighbor along the waterfront).  It was scrapped.

Eleven Foot Shoals - Lightship No. 80

In Hannes Andersen's book, he wrote that Thordarson was known to salute every ship or object he passed enroute to his Rock Island (salute by means of drink, Hannes meant).  Well, in this case Thordarson took a photo as the vessel he rode aboard rounded the Eleven Foot Shoal lightship, anchored approximately 3 1/2 miles south of the actual shoals which were near the Stonington Peninsula, and about 2 miles north of the Minneapolis Shoals. (There wasn't an operating Minneapolis Shoals light station until June of 1936, only a buoy.)

Painted on the topsides of this vessel is "11. FOOT." to designate the vessel and the shoal.  Anchor chain can be seen from bow, indicating she
was on station, a turning mark for a vessel headed to Rock Island. (from Washington Island Archives)

Such a lightship was not uncommon for marking major shoals or turning points for shipping in the nation's waterways.  This one was built in 1912 by Racine Truscott Shell Boat Company of Muskegon, Michigan.  (80 ft. x 21 ft. x 10 ft.)   It was built specifically for lightship service, with a 100 hp steam engine.

During its early service it was sunk, Nov. 10, 1913, on Waverly Shoal in Lake Erie, with a loss of six lives.   The vessel was salvaged, then beached in Buffalo, and later towed to Detroit where it was refitted.   In 1924 it was positioned in northern Green Bay at Eleven Foot Shoal.   We can assume it was some time after being assigned to upper Green Bay that this photo would have been taken by Thordarson.

-  Dick Purinton

Note: Original post from Ferry Cabin News: March 23, 2013