Wisconsin's Maritime Trails: Historic Shipwreck: Schooner Appomattox

Photographed October 26, 2014
Erected by Wisconsin Historical Society, University of Wisconsin
Sea Grant, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
43° 5.432′ N, 87° 52.463′ W

Wisconsin's Maritime Trails
Historic Shipwreck
Schooner Appomattox
Type: Wooden bulk carrier
Built: 1896, Davidson Shipyard, West Bay City, Mich.
Sank: November 2, 1905, stranded
Length: 319’ Beam: 42’
Cargo: Iron ore, coal
Propulsion: Triple-expansion steam engine, propeller
Depth of Wreckage: 20’
Listed on National Register of Historic Places
Just 150 yards from here, in 20 feet of water, lies the Appomattox, the largest wooden steamer ever to sail the Great Lakes, possibly the world. Her builder, Captain James Davidson, pushed the limits of wooden shipbuilding techniques to 320 feet well after steel ships had become the norm, and “Davidson’s Goliaths” competed successfully with their steel counterparts. Powered by a triple-expansion steam engine, the Appomattox could carry 3,000 tons of ore herself and could tow a barge with another 5,000 tons.

On November 2, 1905, the Appomattox and her barge Santiago were loaded with coal and approaching Milwaukee. A blinding mixture of fog and industrial smoke from the city engulfed the vessels, and they ran aground off present-day Atwater Beach. Tugboats quickly pulled the Santiago free, but wrecking crews worked for 13 days to release the Appomattox. Even after jettisoning her cargo, however, they failed to free her. Storms and heavy seas pounded the ship on the bottom, and finally the crew removed everything of value.
Today, large sections of the ship’s bilge, keel, and port-side hull remain intact. Seasonally marked by a Wisconsin Historical Society mooring buoy, the Appomattox is often visible from the surface.
The marker is located at the north end of Atwater Park on northbound North Lake Drive, north of its intersection with East Capitol Drive / Wisconsin Highway 190, Shorewood, Wisconsin 53211.

Wisconsin Shipwrecks: Appomattox (lots of vintage photos)

Pathway leading to the marker location
(visible to the left of the top of the trash can)

View of Lake Michigan from the marker location.

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