Great Lakes Vessels

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River form part of a system linking North America’s heartland with ports and markets throughout the world. This vast inland sea requires vessels specifically designed for the types of cargo, weather, and sea conditions encountered.

The first known ship to navigate the Great Lakes was the Griffon, a little vessel of about 60 tons built in 1679 by the French explorer Robert de La Salle. Launched in the Niagara River, it departed August 7, 1679 from the present site of the village of La Salle. Fragmentary records indicate the ship traversed Lake Erie, crossed the Detroit River, and followed Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac to Green Bay. On the return voyage to La Salle, loaded with furs purchased during her trip, the ship disappeared with all hands. The Griffin was followed 150 years later by the first steamer on the lakes, the Walk-In-The-Water. She was built in Buffalo, NY in 1818 and was driven ashore during a storm in 1821.

The completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 significantly increased the accessibility and navigability of the Great Lakes. Since then more than 2 billion metric tons of cargo valued in excess of $300 billion has moved between the US, Canada, and fifty other nations making the system a critical component of this country’s economy. Iron ore, coal, grain, and steel make up more then 80% of the shipboard cargos revealing the abundant natural resources of the American Midwest.

Lake Forest – Cargo Ship

Laid down as the War Fox, the ship that became the Lake Forest was requisitioned by the US Shipping Board under the Urgent Deficiencies Act of 1917. This cargo ship of 1,948 tons spent the wars years in Michigan before changing names eight times and being sold to various owners in Belgium, Argentina, Chile, and Greece prior to her scrapping in Spain in 1960.

Ann Arbor #4 – Railroad Car Ferry

Launched on October 20, 1906 and built for the Ann Arbor Railroad, she had a capacity of 14 railroad cars. The Ann Arbor traveled from the railroad’s western terminus in Frankfort, Michigan to connect with the Soo R.R. line in Green Bay or Manistique, Michigan. She was purchased by the Michigan State Highway Department in 1937, converted to carry cars across the Straits of Mackinac, and renamed the City of Cheboygan. She was then converted to a floating potato processing plant and storage hulk and was again renamed to become the Edward H. Anderson. In 1974, she was towed across the Atlantic to be scrapped in Genoa, Italy.

Puritan – Ferry

Puritan was a small wooden passenger and freight steam ferry built in 1887 in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The vessel was completely destroyed by fire on December 31, 1895.

Huron Brave – Freighter

This model represents a lumber freighter built in 1860.

H. Houghton – Freighter

Built in 1889 by F.W. Wheeler Company of West Bay City, Michigan, this ship was designed for joint passenger and package freight delivery and was later converted to a sand and gravel carrier. The Houghton burned at Hopps Point, Michigan on the North Channel of the St. Clair River in 1926.

Champion – Tug

Champion was a wooden steam tug built in Detroit, Michigan in 1868. Though her superstructure and interior burned at Put-In-Bay, Ohio on Lake Erie, her hull was towed to Detroit where her engine was salvaged for future use.

Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad Co. (F&PM #1) – Freighter

In September 1882, the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad began operating their own ships across Lake Michigan between its terminals at Ludington and Milwaukee. The first two were the F&PM No. 1 and F&PM No. 2, wooden propeller steamers of 533 and 537 gross tons respectively. Built in Detroit in 1882, they were outfitted to carry passengers, package freight, and bulk grain. At a time when most Lake Michigan passenger steamers were painted white, they quickly became known as the “Black Boats” for their black hulls. In 1906, the F&PM #1became the Wisconsin, and after 1914 she was used as a barge with an increased gross tonnage of 556.