Sidewheeler New Orleans

Date Built: 1844 reconstructed on hull of the Vermillion
Builders: B.F. Goodson, Detroit, MI
Construction: Wooden side wheel packet frieghter Owners: Samuel F. Gelston & Others, Buffalo, NY
Dimensions: 185 x 26 x 12
Cargo: Passengers

Condition: Badly broken and seperated by ice & weather.

Location: W. side of Sugar Is. off North Point

Depth: 15'

Date of Loss: June 11,1849

GPS: N45 02.579 W83 14.425

Type of Loss: Grounding

Loss of Life: none
Co-ordinates are informational only, they maybe inaccurate and should

The owner’s original plan for the New Orleans, a sturdy wooden side-wheeler, was to build upon the recycled hull of the Vermillion, a vessel burned in November 1842, subsequently salvaged, and brought to Detroit, Michigan. Reconstruction of badly damaged lake vessels was not unusual during this period when voyage calamities were frequent and iron fasteners and equipment extremely expensive and to obtain. The builders soon discovered, however, that this plan would require a great deal to make her lakeworthy, and a new hull of greater dimension and tonnage was built. Throughout her career, the New Orleans was used to run from Lake Erie to ports on the west shore of Lake Michigan. Large and elaborate, the side-wheeler was constructed to meet specific needs necessary for the rapid movement of people, supplies and manufactured goods to frontier communities. It soon became the steamer of choice on the Great Lakes. The New Orleans’service was indelibly connected to the immigrant and package freight trade in this westward expansion. The vessel made bimonthly trips westward, taking Irish or Polish or Swedish immigrants bound for new lives on Midwestern corn and wheat farms and points farther west. On the return trip, the vessel carried travelers, condensed products of agriculture like whiskey, and other manufactured goods the West offered.

On her final voyage on June 12, 1849, the New Orleans, traveled north through Lake Huron. When she arrived near Thunder Bay, the vessel met with an impenetrable fog. Before daylight on June 13, the side-wheeler smashed onto a reef of rocks on Sugar Island at the mouth of the bay, some four miles from Thunder Bay. Local fishermen helped the 300 passengers and crew off the sinking boat and into the care of the lighthouse-keeper on the island until they were picked up by another steamer heading west. Most of the cargo, being little damaged, was salvaged. The loss was valued at $25,000. Strong winds on June 14 broke the vessel’s back and she sank, becoming a total loss. Only parts of her engine were brought back to Detroit in the Albany, which arrived at Detroit on June 18 from Chicago and brought news of the wreck.

The location of the wreck remained a mystery until it was located by Alpena divers RuthAnn Beck and John McConnell on May 4, 1992, during an aerial survey of the area.

Sources: NOAA; Swayze; Labadie; Vranna