The Long Career Of The
By James Donahue
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
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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