David Dows


David Dows

Most Splendid Ship David Dows


By James Donahue


The David Dows, launched at Toledo in 1881, was said to have been the only five-mast schooner to ever appear on the Great Lakes.


Its measurements, reaching 265 feet, four inches from stem to stern, placed the Dows among the largest vessels on the lakes in its day.


While called a schooner, the Dows was in reality a barkentine because it was rigged with square sails on the fore mast, and carried fore and aft sails on the remaining masts.


The masts themselves towered to a height of 165 feet, making the ship a most impressive sight. It took a 12-man crew between four and eight hours to hoist sail, even with the help of a steam donkey engine to raise the sheets.


The holds were large and spacious enough to carry record cargoes of up to 90,000 bushels of grain.


Unfortunately, the David Dows turned out to be a problem for her owners, the Toledo shipping firm of Carrington and Casey. The vessel was too large to navigate the shallow rivers and harbor entrances of its day while carrying a full cargo and the sails proved to be too cumbersome to make the ship easy to navigate through the turning and twisting routes vessels faced while making their way through the Great Lakes.


Within the first few months of service the Dows accidentally ran down and sank the schooner Charles K. Nims on Lake Erie. The crew of the Nims escaped unharmed.


Shortly after that, the Dows collided with the schooner Richard Mott on Lake Michigan, resulting in the deaths of four crew members on the Mott. After the second accident, authorities declared the Dows uncontrollable and dangerous. The ship was stripped of its top masts and from that day on was used as a tow barge.


The Dows met its end on November 28, 1889 near Chicago. The Dows was carrying coal and was under tow behind the steamer Aurora. Also in the tow was the schooner barge George W. Adams. The three vessels became caught in a severe winter gale at the southern end of Lake Michigan. The Aurora dropped the tow line and steamed to Chicago to escape the storm. The Dows and Adams dropped anchor and prepared to ride out the gale.


The Dows did not survive. The vessel spring a leak and its donkey steam engine, that worked the pumps, failed. When tugs arrived at the scene the next morning the Dows was sink to the decks, about to founder, and the crew was already hanging on the rigging.


Efforts to attach a tow line and bring the sinking ship to port were hampered by a heavy layer of ice. Then, as salvagers watched, the Dows reared on its beam ends, dipped its bow into the seas, and slid to the bottom.


It sank in 42 feet of water, with all five masts still visible above the water line. The remains of the Dows still lie at that spot today, just 10 miles southeast of Chicago. It is a favorite visit for sport divers.


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