Fire Claimed The Northern Indiana
feet in length, the side wheeled steamship Northern Indiana was an impressive vessel in its day and it obviously made a dramatic
sight when it burned to destruction, claiming an estimated 28 lives, off Lake Erie’s Point Pelee on July 17, 1856.
under the temporary command of the ship’s first mate, W. H. Wetmore, had just made its way down the Detroit River and
entered the broad waters of Lake Erie, bound for Toledo, when fire broke out in the engine room sometime around 11 a.m.
reportedly spread so rapidly that it drove the black gang from the engine room, making it impossible to stop the engine. Thus
the burning ship steamed off, a burning runaway disaster with an estimated 104 passengers and 43 crew members fighting for
That two other
steamships, the Mississippi and Republic, were nearby and able to catch up with the burning ship was credited with the relatively
low loss of life. While we were unable to get a report as to just how it was done, we can envision some excellent acts of
seamanship as the skippers of these two vessels maneuvered their commands against the fire ship and allow survivors to jump
Northern Indiana burned until it sank not far off the northwest tip of Point Pelee, at the western end of Lake Erie.
The Northern Indiana
and its sister ship, the Southern Michigan, were large wooden side wheeled steamships built in Buffalo for the Michigan Southern
Railway. They were designed to carry both passengers and freight and connect the Michigan line to railroad lines connecting
Buffalo and points east. There had been no rail constructed from Buffalo west to Toledo in 1856.
Great Lakes historian
Cris Kohl, credited with researching details of this vessel, wrote that the Northern Indiana was known among lake sailors
as the “hard-luck sister” because of a run of mishaps during its brief period of existence.
Kohl wrote that
the steamer collided with the schooner Plymouth within weeks of its launch in 1852.
Later that same year the vessel sustained extensive damage ina gale off Dunkirk, New York. The steamer gashed a hole in its
wooden hull after striking submerged anchor in the harbor at Monroe, Michigan, in 1854.