Wisconsin's Maritime Trails: Historic Shipwreck: Steamer Vernon

© Photographed August 22, 2015 and July 13, 2014
 Erected by Wisconsin Historical Society,
and Sea Grant University of Wisconsin,
Two Rivers, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
Google Map

 Wisconsin's Maritime Trails
Historic Shipwreck
Steamer Vernon

Type: packet steamer
Built: 1886, J.P. Smith, Chicago
Sank: October 29, 1887  Lives Lost: 40 to 50
Length: 177'  Beam: 26'
Cargo: passengers, pig iron, produce, fish, package freight, barrel staves
Propulsion: steam screw (propeller)
Depth of Wreckage: 200'
From the moment she was launched, onlookers predicted bad luck for the elegant packet steamer Vernon. She was fast and beautifully adorned, but a math error by her designer left her top-heavy and unstable. Built for the Booth Fish Company of Chicago, the vessel regularly carried passengers and cargo between Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Chicago.

On Oct. 28, 1887 the Vernon departed Frankfort, Mich., bound for Lake Michigan's western shore. Onboard were 40 to 50 passengers and crew. About 10:00 p.m. a notheast gale brewed, forcing the ship to struggle throughout the night against heavy, rolling seas. Immense waves finally swamped the vessel, flowing through open hatches and cutting the steamer's power. The helpless Vernon was no match for the storm's fury, and by 4:00 a.m. the following morning she had sunk in deep water off Two Rivers, Wisc.

Sole survivor, Axel Stone claimed that the steamer's captain had overloaded his ship, leaving her side-loading hatches only six inches above the water. Cargo overflowing from the holds had blocked the forward hatches, and they could not be closed. These circumstances had left the Vernon dangerously susceptible to flooding-the likely cause of her sinking.

Today, the Vernon rests in 200 feet of water about five miles due east of Rawley Point. Well-preserved by Lake Michigan's cold, fresh water, the shipwreck lists to starboard amid a field of cargo blown from her packed holds. Her forward gangway hatches are indeed open, just as Stone described.
The marker is located on the grounds of Rogers Street Fishing Village, and is accessible from southbound Jackson Street, between 22nd Street (to the north) and 21st Street (to the south), at 2101 Jackson Street, Two Rivers, Wisconsin 54241.

Two Rivers, WI (Off Shore) Steamer VERNON Sinks In Lake Michigan, Oct 1887
Chicago, Oct. 30. -- The propeller VERNON, of the Northern Michigan Line, foundered during the terrible gale which raged on Lake Michigan yesterday, and it is almost certain that of her entire crew and list of passengers, numbering over 30, and probably close on to 50, not a soul escaped. No greater loss of life has occurred on any one wreck on the lakes this season, and the uncertainty as to the actual number of lives lost gives it a magnitude greater that any since the Canadian steamship ALGONA was wrecked on Isle Royal in Lake Superior two years ago . . . .
Surviving the Vernon Disaster, by James Donahue
Swedish immigrant Axel Stone was working as a watchman aboard the one-year-old steamer Vernon when the vessel foundered in a fierce Lake Michigan gale on Oct. 25, 1887 . . .

The marker at its new location in front of Rogers Street Fishing Village.

The marker used to be at this location inside the Village;
the side of the marker is visible to the right in this photo,
next to the bottom of the staircase.

The marker is located on the grounds of Rogers Street Fishing Village.

 The marker is located in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

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