CITY OF PORT HURON

On September 4, 1876, CITY OF PORT HURON, a wooden steam barge, sank a few miles off shore near Lexington, Michigan, at about noon. She was heavily loaded with iron ore and sprang a leak at about 11 o’clock. Most of the crew managed to get on top of the cabin while two were in the forward rigging as she went down in 6 fathoms of water. The heavy seas washed over those on the cabin. Captain George Davis and two others floated ashore on wreckage while a fish boat picked up the five others. No lives were lost.

  • Vessel Name: CITY OF PORT HURON
  • Nationality: U.S.
  • Official Number: 5392
  • Rig: Propeller

Dimensions and Tonnage

  • Length: 169.00
  • Width: 30.42
  • Depth: 10.16
  • Masts: 0
  • Gross Tonnage: 411.02
  • Net Tonnage: 0.00
  • Hull Material: Wood
  • Hull Number:

Vessel History

  • Rebuilds:
  • History: First enrollment issued at Port Huron, MI, on July 8, 1876.
  • Disposition: Sprung leak, broached, and sank about four miles off Lexington, MI, Lake Huron, on September 4, 1876, when downbound with iron ore; no lives lost. Final enrollment surrendered at Buffalo, NY, on 9/9/1876. In summer, 2001, divers located wreck in 35 ft. of water, about 15 mi. north of Sarnia, Ont.

Build Information

  • Builder: Arnold, Joseph P.
  • Place Built: Port Huron, MI
  • Year Built: 1867

An associated Press dispatch from Detroit last night announced that the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON, bound from Marquette to Buffalo with a cargo of iron ore, sunk yesterday morning, in Lake Huron, in 50 ft. of water. No lives were lost.
The vessel was owned in this city by Capt. M.M. Drake and others, and was valued at $15,000.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 3, 1876 3-1

A special dispatch to the Free Press from Port Huron, September 4, Says: The steambarge CITY OF PORT HURON foundered in Lake Huron at noon today. She was bound from Lake Superior to Erie with a cargo of iron ore. She had the barge DICTATOR in tow. The DICTATOR was cast adrift about an hour before the CITY OF PORT HURON foundered. The barge was heavily laden down by the head, having burned her fuel out aft. She was seen to broach to and sink. The crew took to the rigging and the top of the cabin. She sunk in about 6 fathoms of water nearly a mile from shore, near Lakeport. her cabin floated off with 8 persons on it, who were rescued by fishermen from shore. Two remaining were taken off by the tug Wm. A. MOORE. The DICTATOR arrivd here safe.
Detroit Free press
September 5, 1876

The steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON foundered yesterday abreast of Birchville about a mile from shore there she broached to and immediately sunk. She was heavily loaded with iron ore and had burned her fuel out aft and was so far down by the head that the syphon pump could not keep her free from water, The crew managed to get on top of the cabin which was out of the water and 2 persons were in the rigging forward. The heavy see which was running, washed the cabin off, and the unfortunate sailors were soon adrift and at the mercy of the waves, Captain George Davis, who was in command of the ill-fated craft, together with his son and 6 others, were picked up from the pieces of the floating wreck and brought safely to shore by a boat launched by people on shore. A tug picked up one other survivor and a scow two others. The CITY OF PORT HURON was owned by M.M. Drake and others of Buffalo and was considered a safe boat if not too deeply loaded. That she was in this condition was very evident. The fortunate circumstance of her going down near shore and while the water in the lake is warn had probably a great deal to do with the saving of the lives of the crew.
Port Huron Daily Times
Tuesday, September 5, 1876

Steam Barge CITY OF PORT HURON, sunk in Lake Huron in six fathoms of water, one mile from shore near Lakeport.
Detroit Free Press
September 5, 1876

Captain George Davis, commander of the sunken propeller, CITY OF PORT HURON, desires us to state that it was about 11 in the forenoon, when the steamer sprung a leak; that the pumps worked all right and kept her clear until 12 o’clock, after which the water gained on them at the rate of a foot an hour until she went down. He says the boat was not overloaded, drawing 11′ 1 inch forward. She is of peculiar build and so shallow in the hold as not to show much side out when loaded. She was 3 or 4 miles out when she went down, and Captain Davis and 2 others floated ashore on wreckage while a fish boat picked up five or the crew.
Port Huron Daily Times
Wednesday, September 6, 1876

A dispatch in yesterday’s paper announced the sinking of the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON on Lake Huron Monday afternoon, 3 miles north of Lakeport, in 50 ft. of water, and also conveyed the welcome intelligence that the crew were all saved. The boat was bound down with a cargo of iron ore, and had the barge DICTATOR in tow. The latter was cast adrift about an hour before the propeller went down. Capt. Davis reported that the steam barge consumed all her coal aft, and thus became low down by the head, which caused her machinery to work badly. While in this situation she shipped heavy seas, and was put about toward shore, but before reaching it was overcome by the seas and sunk, nearly a mile from land. The captain, his sone and 8 men took refuge in the cabin which brole loose from the hull, and were picked up by a fish boat which went to their assistance from Lakeport. The remaining 2 of the crew were up in the rigging, and were rescued by the tug WM. A. MOORE. The owners of the vessel are Messrs. Drake, Bartow, Robinson & Drake, of this city, who place her value at about $20,000. She is insured for $18,000 in companies represented by Messrs. Smith, Davis & Clark, and Messrs. Fish & Armstrong – $5,000 with the former and $13,000 with the latter. The cargo is said to be fully insured.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 6, 1876 3-5

Capt. Jack McKenna, Marine Inspector, has been sent to examine into the condition of the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON, with the view of raising her. Our latest advices from the scene of the disaster are to the effect that a large quantity of broken portions of her upper works and her furniture are floating about, which tends to show that she is so badly broken or injured as to be worthless, and that no effort will be made to raise her except it be to save her engine and boilers. The tops of her spars were yesterday visible above the surface of the lake, and a part of her sails, which were set were also apparent.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 7, 1876 3-6

Capt. John McKenna has returned from the wreck of the prop. CITY OF PORT HURON, and confirms the report which was published by us on Thursday. He says she is rapidly going to pieces, and that it will be a waste of time to attempt to raise her. The hull is evidently broken to pieces and doubled up.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 9, 1876 3-6

The wrecker MONITOR has returned to Detroit with the boiler and 100 tons of iron ore recovered from the wreck of the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON, some time since sunk in Lake Huron, and with chains and fixtures belonging to the wreck of the schooner C. L. WALKER. Further work is to be done towards the recovery of property from both wrecks.
Cleveland Herald
August 4, 1877

The MONITOR, propeller barge, which has been engaged in taking the cargo from the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON, which was sunk in the lake a few miles below here, and the schooner C. L. WALKER near Lakeport, has returned to Port Huron, having been most successful in her expedition. The CITY OF PORT HURON was found about four miles below Lexington lying in thirty-four feet of water, a total wreck, being broken in two. From her were taken the large boiler and about 200 tons of iron ore. From the WALKER, which was found off Lakeport, in forty feet of water, two anchors, a lot of chain, and about 10 tons of ore were taken. Later in the season she is to return after the engines of the CITY OF PORT HURON, and the remainder of the cargoes.
Cleveland Herald
August 22, 1977

The U. S. Marshall Matthews sold the boiler and macinery of the old steamer PORT HURON at Detroit yesterday morning at auction. Darius Cole was the purchaser, his bid being $1,000.
Port Huron Daily Times
Thursday, December 13, 1877

The date was Sept. 4, 1876, and the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON was losing a battle against a gale at the southern end of Lake Huron. The ore laden boat, with the tow barge DICTATOR in tow, was trying to make her way into the St. Clair River and the port whose name it bore, when she began to founder.
After hours of battling the storm, the steamer had burned more fuel than usual. In fact, the ship’s aft coal hunkers were empty. Because the steamer was weighted down with iron ore in her bow, she became unbalanced and began taking on water with every sea that rolled over her how. The ship was soon dropping lower and lower by the head.
The steamer was unmanageable. Down by the head and with her stern riding high, she was not in any condition to fight the storm. The rudder was too high to work properly. the propeller was not deep enough in the water to work effectively and the ship’s siphon pump wasn’t working. The CITY OF PORT HURON was sinking.
Capt. George Davis did all he could to save the boat. He cut the DICTATOR adrift and then headed the steamer toward Lakeport, which was the nearest Michigan port. Davis acted too late. About a mile off shore, the PORT HURON suddenly broached to, took a large wave over her deck, and sank in 40 feet of water.
The crew scrambled to the roof of the cabin and into the rigging on the fore mast, which were the only parts of the boat still rising out of the water. Alas, the seas swept away the cabin and the sailors who chose to sit on its roof found themselves adrift on the wreckage. Residents of Lakeport saw the steamer founder and mounted a rescue. They loaded a fishing boat on a wagon and hauled it about three miles out of town, close to where the hapless sailors, still struggled in the storm. The boat soon had them picked up and delivered safely to dry land.
A telegraph message to Port Huron brought the tug WILLIAM A. MOORE out to assist in the rescue. That evening the Moore took the rest of the crew off the wreck.
‘The City of Port Huron was never salvaged, Capt. Davis said he thought the 169-foot-long ship broke in half when it sank. The boat was built only seven years earlier at Port Huron.
Port Huron Daily Tribune
Article by James Donahue

Steam screw CITY OF PORT HURON. U. S. No. 5392. Of 411.02 tons. Home port, Port Huron, Mich.
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1871.