Three 19th-century Great Lakes sailing ships, the Boston, the Sebastopol, and the Alleghany, had two things in common.
All three were shipwrecked off the shore of St. Francis, Wis., and all three were shipwrecked as a result of an inadequate Milwaukee harbor.
Milwaukee’s original harbor (located about a half-mile south of the present-day harbor) had a shallow harbor entrance, which kept larger ships from entering the inner harbor. These larger ships were forced to anchor outside the harbor entrance at extended piers to unload their goods.
Without the protection of the inner harbor during fierce lake storms, many of the ships risked great damage or destruction.
Also, due to inadequate navigational lighting, ship captains found it difficult to find the harbor at night, especially during a storm, resulting in ships running aground.
Between 1846 and 1855, the three previously mentioned sailing ships were doomed because of these inadequacies.
Fate of the Boston
The side-wheel steamship Boston was built in 1845 and measured 210 feet in length. On Nov. 24, 1846, the Boston arrived in Milwaukee from Buffalo, N.Y., but was unable to enter the inner harbor due to the shallowness of the harbor mouth. The ship instead docked at the extended pier to discharge its cargo.
At around 8pm that evening a horrific storm came out of the northeast. Seeking safety, Captain William T. Pease again attempted to take the ship through the harbor mouth into the inner harbor, but the Boston was caught by the powerful gale and lost its smoke stacks, rendering the engines useless.
Anchors were lowered, in hopes of riding out the storm, but the strong winds dragged the Boston southward and around 11pm the ship struck bottom about 150 feet off the shore of the present-day St. Francis Seminary in St. Francis. Help arrived and all the crew and passengers were rescued.
The surf broke over the ship, which filled with water. The remaining smoke stack hung limply over the side. An organ destined for an Episcopal church was rescued, as well as cabin doors and panel work, and the vessel’s engine.