Ships 2

City of Port Huron

Ships 3

Side Wheel Steamer 1860

City of Port Huron 1867

By James Donahue

There was a side wheel driven steamship called the City of Port Huron, built at Port Huron, Michigan, by a man named Joseph P. Arnold. Getting images of this vessel or learning anything about J. P. Arnold has been a task that has consumed hours of my time. That I once lived and worked in Port Huron, and overlooked this particular piece of the city’s marine history, is difficult to understand.

The Jenks Shipbuilding Company was well known as a builder of steel ships at the turn of the century, and before that, numerous vessels were built and launched on the Black River, at Port Huron. The earliest known vessel built there was the General Gratiot, an 84-foot-long side-wheel steamship. It was built by Augustus Jones in 1831 For Francis P. Browning, who offered passenger and cargo service between Fort Gratiot and Detroit.

Another early vessel from Port Huron was the Temperance, a 60-foot sloop owned and possibly built by William Austin in 1839.

James Moffat and Daniel Runnels built and operated ferry boats for the Port Huron and Sarnia Ferry Line before the Blue Water Bridge was built. Moffat was also known for his ship recovery business and also in 1864 was the builder of the tug Kate Moffat, which towed large rafts of lumber on Lake Huron and on the St. Clair River.

But then there was the steamship City of Port Huron, plus one or two other vessels, launched by J. P. Arnold at Port Huron. Local historians failed to ever mention Arnold as part of the shipbuilding trade.

Old news clippings listed the schooners Mary A. Daryaw and Lyman M. Davis as having also been built by J. P. Arnold. The Daryaw was launched at Port Huron as the Kewaunee in 1866 and the Davis was built at Muskegon in 1873.

The City of Port Huron was a wooden steamship. It measured 169 feet and designed as a bulk freight carrier. It operated for nine years on the lakes, from 1867 until the day the hull failed and the steamer sank in Lake Huron, off Lexington, on September 4, 1876. The ship was carrying a load of iron ore when it foundered in 35 feet of water.

Because it sank in such shallow water, the crew was able to hang in the ship’s rigging until help arrived. One news story suggested that the ship was overloaded and as the ship’s coal was burned aft, the weight of the ore in the forward hold caused the bow to drop below the water line. The pumps were unable to keep up.

The captain, who remained unnamed, denied the news story. He said the ship always looked like that, with its bow deep in the water.

The machinery and upper works were salvaged by the wrecking tug Monitor in 1877.