Researchers Call for Michigan City Wreck to Become Underwater Preserve | Characteristics

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MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. – A shipwreck off the shores of Mount Baldy in Michigan City, Ind., That few even realize could become Indiana’s second underwater nature reserve.

According to researcher Charles D. Beeker, the Muskegon began life as the Peerless, a 1199 gross ton, 211 foot steel-hulled passenger freighter, with a width of 39.9 feet and draft. 12.5 foot water. It was built in 1872 in Cleveland.

The ship operated on the Great Lakes as a butcher, dredger (or “sandblaster”) and ocean liner. It was renamed Muskegon after the Indiana Transportation Co. bought it.

On October 6, 1910, while moored at the company’s wharf in Michigan City, the Muskegon caught fire and burned almost to the waterline. The wreckage was then towed about a quarter of a mile from the shores of Mount Baldy and sunk in 35 feet of water.

According to Beeker, the wreck is important because “it represents important innovations in commerce, engineering, industry and transportation in the waters of Indiana and the Great Lakes.”

The wreck was rediscovered by recreational divers in the 1960s and became “the first wreck from Indiana to be successfully accepted into the National Register of Historic Places for its 19th century contributions to innovation and technology. Maritime Great Lakes, ”Beeker said.

Because of its shallow depth, the wreck site is an exceptional location for recreational diving, he said, provided divers are trained for low visibility environments.

“While much of the ship’s superstructure was destroyed in the fire, much of the ship remains to be explored by divers,” Beeker said. “The main segments of the main frame and sidewalls of the ship, the steam engine, twin boilers, Bishop Arch assemblies, propeller and driveshaft” remain intact.

Beeker, director of the Center for Underwater Science at Indiana University, will speak at 1 p.m. PT on September 11 at the Michigan City Public Library during a program celebrating Muskegon’s appointment as Indiana’s second “shipwreck nature reserve”.

The program will include a lecture and a slide show highlighting the characteristics of the shipwreck and the reasons why it is important to preserve the site.

In early summer, researchers at Indiana University inspected the historic wrecks of the Muskegon and JD Marshall and installed seasonal mooring buoys for boaters’ access. IU, as permitted by the Lake Michigan Coastal Program of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, is preparing for the Muskegon Reserve nomination.

Neighbor JD Marshall was the state reserve of first wreck. In September 2013, several agencies gathered at Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton to mark their engagement about 600 yards offshore.

The Marshall was a 154 foot wooden suction cup steam barge that sank in June 1911, killing four crew members.

The reserve, approved by the National Resources Commission, covers approximately 100 acres and is marked each spring by buoys in the corners and along the northern edge. Fishing and paddling are permitted from the boat within the limits, however, anchoring is prohibited to protect the structure.

Divers can enter the water to view the vessel, but must follow the rules set by the DNR for the preservation of the environment and become familiar with the site before diving. All the objects in the reserve are the property of the State and it is forbidden to remove them.

An ironic twist is that the Marshall was destroyed during a rescue on the Muskegon.

Built in 1891 in South Haven, the Marshall was designed to transport lumber. It was then purchased by the Independent Sand and Gravel Co., and converted into a suction cup to carry sand and other materials to help build Chicago.

The same company owned the Muskegon, which remained moored in Michigan City until residents grew tired of seeing the burnt hull.

On June 10, 1911, a 10-member crew under the command of Captain Leroy Rand loaded the Marshall with 1,000 tons of sand, cast iron and other supplies from the Muskegon. He was transporting the cargo to Chicago when a leak occurred in the hull. He dropped anchor near what is now Indiana Dunes State Park for repairs.

When he left for the second time, an intense gust arose just before 1 a.m. and rocked the boat so hard that it “turned into a turtle” or overturned and sank.

Rand swam to shore and brought back a small boat John in search of the surviving crew members. Three were trapped at the bottom of the boat. Another ran aground on the shore a few days later, nearly 3 km away.

The Marshall was rediscovered in 1979, and a few years later, in 1982, an illegal attempt was made to scrap it. The salvagers were captured by the US Coast Guard and the remains sank to the bottom.

“The JD Marshall and the Muskegon represent two historic wrecks of significance to Michigan City’s maritime heritage,” Beeker said, “and deserve to be promoted and protected as nature preserves.”


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