Wisconsin Historical Society

Waters off Port yield a national treasure

Allen “Butch” Klopp held a large block he recovered from the Northerner in 1975Photo Bill Schanen IV

By Bill Schanen IV  - Ozaukee Press

The 142-year-old wreck of the Northerner, a 81-foot schooner discovered in 1975 by Port Washington residents five miles southeast of the city, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Wisconsin Historical Society announced last week.

One of only a few examples in Wisconsin of the small lakeshoring schooners that played a vital role in 19th century maritime commerce on the Great Lakes, the Northerner is inexorably linked to Port Washington.

The city, in fact, was the last port of call for the schooner, which on Saturday, Nov. 28, 1868, sailed into the harbor after the crew discovered it was taking on water.

Freed of its deck cargo, the Northerner continued its voyage south but made it only a few miles from Port Washington before sinking in about 130 feet of water. More than a century later, the Northerner was discovered by Rick Smith and Linda Nenn of Port Washington and Roger Chapman of Milwaukee, Smith said. Another Port Washington resident, Allen “Butch” Klopp, said he was the first person to dive on the wreck.

Klopp has about 200 artifacts from the Northerner in his private collection. Among those artifacts are the ship’s rudder and tiller, which are in Klopp’s front yard on Division Street, a massive snatch block marked “SCHR. NORTHERNER,” a crock containing cheese and a rare set of intact running lights.

Smith has a smaller collection of artifacts from the Northerner that is on display at the Port Washington Light Station, a museum maintained by the Port Washington Historical Society.

The Northerner could also play a role in Port Washington’s future. The designation of the wreck as a national historical treasure could bolster the case for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shipwreck sanctuary headquarters near or in Port Washington.

NOAA is working to establish a 875-square-mile shipwreck sanctuary stretching from Port Washington to Two Rivers. The agency’s plan includes a headquarters to be located in one of the lakeshore communities within the sanctuary. Port Washington is in the running, and local officials have said the former coal dock would make an ideal location for the headquarters.