George M. Cox (Official Number 150898) – Rock of Ages lighthouse was completed in 1908 to warn ships of the hazardous waters surrounding the Rock of Ages shoals. Standing 130 feet tall with a second order Fresnel Lens, it was the most powerful light on the Great Lakes. In spite of this commanding navigational aide, the reef again claimed one more major ship in 1933. The steel passenger ship George M. Cox en route to Thunder Bay in the fog ran on to the rocks the night of May 27, 1933. Striking the reef at speed of 17 knots lifted an estimated 110 feet of her keel out of the water.
All 125 passengers and crew were rescued by the lighthouse keeper and spent an uncomfortable night huddled on the lighthouse spiral staircase.
The Cox was built in 1901 at Toledo, Ohio by the Craig Ship Building Co. It was originally named the Puritan, but was renamed in 1933 to the George M. Cox. Its dimensions at the time it was built were 233 feet long, 40 feet in beam and 22 feet deep. It was lengthened by 26 feet in 1908. The Puritan had a long operational history in the passenger transportation business mainly between Chicago, Holland, and Benton Harbor. It was acquired by the US Navy in 1918 for service in World War I then returned to Great Lakes passenger service in 1920. After sitting idle for four years during the Great Depression, in 1933 millionaire George M. Cox bought the Puritan for service between Chicago, Houghton, Isle Royale, and Port Arthur. After a total refit the now elegant Puritan was renamed the George M. Cox after its owner. It was on its maiden voyage as the George M. Cox with its owner on board that the grounding on Rock of Ages shoal occurred.
Today the twisted remains of the Cox remain on the shoal for divers to explore. The bow section lies in fifteen feet of water badly damaged by ice and waves. The stern, machinery, and many of the ship’s artifacts still lie in 40’ to 100’ of water. National Park Service vigilance and a strong diver etiquette, which promotes “Take only pictures – Leave only bubbles”, now protect these shipwrecks and their artifacts.