Empire State


Empire State

The Long Career Of The Empire State


By James Donahue


The Empire State remained afloat on the Great Lakes for an incredible 54 years, from the day it was launched in Buffalo in 1862 until the day it was filled with stone and scuttled in 1916 at the end of the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan.


Even then, the staunch old oak hull was still being used. It was purposefully sunk and used to extend the end of the Sturgeon Bay Stone Company’s wharf on Bullhead Point. The remains of the old ship are still there.


Any lakes historian will tell you that 54 years was an unusually long time for a wooden hulled vessel to last. But the Empire State apparently enjoyed excellent maintenance and it rewarded its owners with many years of trouble free service.


Well . . . almost no trouble. There were a few incidents.


On June 27, 1900, the Empire State was run aground during a thick fog on the east shore of Green Bay while trying to find its way into the port of Menominee with a cargo of oats.


The ship was driven so hard in the muck it took four tugs to pull it free after the crew jettisoned the cargo. Even at that, it took the tugs George Nelson, Sydney T. Smith, Gladys Nau and Torrent three days to work the ship back into open water. In the meantime, local farmers used make-shift rafts and private boats to salvage an estimated 5,000 to 8.000 pounds of oats.


A year or two after that, the Empire State became trapped in shifting ice for a full week, with 25 passengers on board. Everybody spent their time reading, playing cards and telling stories until their ordeal ended. Two passengers left the ship and walked ashore rather than wait.


A fire in the engine room ended the ship’s career as a steamer. The fire occurred on Christmas Day, 1906, while the Empire State was moored at the Barry Dock in Chicago. Even though the damage was limited, the fire encouraged the Barry Brothers Transportation Company to sell the 44-year-old vessel.


Thus the Empire State’s fate was sealed. The steamer was dismantled and turned into a stone barge. In 1908 she was purchased by the Sturgeon Bay Stone Company.


During its distinguished time on the lakes, the Empire State is noted for two other interesting events.


When first launched, the ship was powered by a single cylinder steam engine. But in 1867 it was selected as a candidate for testing a newly designed two-cylinder, or compound engine. This power plant proved to be so successful that it was the forerunner of a new engine design used in steam powered ships that followed.


During its years of service on Lake Michigan for the Barry Brothers, the Empire State and her sister ship, Badger State, were popular passenger boats.


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