The Erastus Corning's 22 Years

Erastus Corning

By James Donahue


The Erastus Corning is remembered as the last of the full-rigged barks to sail the Great Lakes.


Built in 1867, the 204-foot-long vessel was found to be improperly rigged to easily navigate the many turns and twists connected with traversing the waterways connecting the Great Lakes.


By 1877 the Corning was converted to be a schooner which allowed more control of the sails from the main deck and faster conversions to deal with changing winds and weather patterns.


The Corning was named for the late Erastus Corning, a New York Congressman, industrialist and railroad pioneer. While the record does not show it, Corning may have been behind the construction and operation of the ship that bore his name. The vessel was primarily engaged in hauling iron ore and Corning was heavily involved in the steel industry.


The bark was under the command of Capt. George H. Clarke in 1872 when it attempted to rescue passengers and crew on the stranded steamer Galena on a reef off Alpena. Strangely, after sailors from the Corning braved the stormy seas and rowed a lifeboat to the Galena, the Galena declined the offer of rescue. While anchored just off the reef, the bark took a heavy pounding, with one large sea rolling completely over the deck, nearly swamping the ship.


That incident was believed to have been the only serious trouble the Corning had during its 22-years on the lakes.


The vessel was reduced to the status of a tow-barge by the time it met its fate on May 21, 1889, when it grounded on Gull shoal, off Lake Michigan’s Poverty Island during a storm.


The Corning was laden with its usual cargo of iron ore, and under tow behind the streamer Roumania, when it hit the shoal, broke her tow line, and started taking on water. The old wooden hull drifted ashore where the crew got safely away. Before it could be pulled back into deep water the rotting hull broke up under the heavy pounding of the seas.



Great And Lost Ships Of The World