Ships 2


Ships 3


Lumber Hooker Milwaukee Lost In Collision

By James Donahue

After 18 years on the lakes, the steam barge Milwaukee, once part of a grand fleet of passenger and freight carriers on the Northern Line from Chicago to Ogdensburg, New York, was reduced by 1886 to the role of a lumber hooker, making regular trips between Muskegon and Chicago and helping rebuild that city after the great fire of 1871.

It was on the night of July 9, 1886 that the Milwaukee, steaming without cargo for Muskegon, and a second inbound lumber barge, the C. Hickox, collided off Grand Haven, Michigan. There was one casualty. He was the watchman, Dennis Harrington of Milwaukee, who was in the pilot house with Captain William Armstrong when the lights of the Hickox emerged from the darkness and it was obvious the two boats were going to hit. They said Harrington left the pilot house and ran to the side of the steam barge and apparently was knocked overboard by the force of the crash. He was never seen again.

The Hickox, under command of Captain Simon Oday, was laden with lumber and she had the schooner barge Apprentice Boy in tow, at the time it hit the ill-fated Milwaukee broadside. After the two boats parted, it took Oday some time to back off and maneuver the two vessels around so that the Hickox, which was not in a sinking condition, to pull alongside the Milwaukee to offer assistance.

In the meantime, the crew of the Milwaukee was busy preparing to launch lifeboats and leave the barge which was quickly settling. Engineer Alfred Green notified the captain right away that the steamer was sinking and that he had started the pumps. But the fireman next said the water was gaining so fast it already had extinguished the fires in the boilers. All 12 surviving crew members were busy launching the boats and throwing hatches overboard to work as make-shift rafts when the Hickox came alongside.

At about the same time the steamer City of New York, which heard the distress signals, also came alongside. The sailors from all three vessels worked that night to save the Milwaukee. They cut away a sail from the Milwaukee’s mast and pulled it over the hole in the side of the Milwaukee’s hull, creating a canvas jacket. But it was not enough. Bedding was brought over from the Hickox and stuffed in the hole, but still the water gained. As a last-ditch effort, heavy lines were drawn under the Milwaukee and tied to both the Hickox and New York like a saddle. But the old barge continued  to settle and its weight began causing the other two boats to list. Finally the lines had to be cut and the Milwaukee sank as the sailors stood helplessly by.

The Milwaukee was not a large vessel. It measured 137 feet in length and was designed to make trips through the old Welland Canal locks between Lakes Ontario and Erie. It was built in 1868 in Ogdensburg, New York.