The history of Cleveland is preserved within the city’s streets and buildings, but a different sort of history is preserved just a bit north. In the waters of Lake Erie, there are are as many as 400 confirmed shipwrecks, many of which are marked by floating buoys. It’s important to note, however, that 400 is the
confirmed number. There are likely more hidden in the lake’s depths, as some sources estimate that a quarter of all Great Lakes shipwrecks are in Lake Erie! While there’s much to learn, we’re going to take a quick dive into Ohio’s nautical past. Are you ready for an unrivaled glimpse into what lies hidden just off of Cleveland’s shores?
James S. Hill
When the Memorial Shoreway was expanded in the 1950s, it carved through the Gordon Park area. For many years, Gordon Park had been used as a dump, which meant that local pollutants frequently sank into the lake. (For some added historical context, the infamous
pollution-fueled 1969 river fire
was still a few years away. As you might imagine, the water of this era was rather unpleasant.) To protect the beach from erosion and further inevitable pollution, two 60-year-old freighters were sunk in 1962 to function as a breakwall. As the
James S. Hill
(pictured) and the
sunk beneath the waves, they promised to protect the shore. The area at which the ships were sunk is now part of the
Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve
PS Atlantic was a steamboat that was once a common sight on Lake Erie. Completed around 1848, nobody expected that this charmer would usher in the fifth-worst tragedy in the history of the Great Lakes. In August of 1852, the Atlantic departed from Buffalo with the final destination of Detroit. The ship stopped by Erie, Pennsylvania, where the cabins were filled and the deck was packed. Between 500 and 600 people were aboard when it departed. Later that night, the new propeller steamer Ogdensburg was heading from Cleveland to New York. It was dark and very foggy when the ships collided. The Atlantic began to sink, and the Ogdensburg crew rescued as many as they could; however, between 130 and 300 lives were lost that night, many of whom were forgotten due to the absence of a detailed passenger list. Today, the wreck lies near Ontario under 150 feet of water. The wreck is monitored electronically by Canadian police, who patrol and investigate the general area if a vessel lingers above the wreck for too long.
made headlines in on January 2, 2018 when it became the first Ohio shipwreck to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This wooden-hulled steamship, which was built in 1837, sunk in 1850 when a couple
starboard boilers exploded
. The ship was carrying both freight and passengers, so there were possibly as many as 100 people aboard when it went down. Only about 30 survived.
The shipwreck's discovery was announced in 2007, spotted some eight miles north of Vermilion. The ship's identity was confirmed when the remains of sidewheels were spotted on-site. Imagine the thrill of spotting a 150-year-old piece of tech like that in the murky waters of Lake Erie!
Marquette & Bessemer No.2
This giant ferry was completed in 1905 to transport railway cars across the Great Lake and into Canada. The grand ship was 338 feet in length and she was known by locals as "The Car Ferry." However, between December 7-8, 1909, a storm made this large ferry disappear forever. On December 7, winds reached upwards of 75 miles per hour. Nobody knows exactly when or where the ship was lost, but she never made it to port. Wreckage in her colors was spotted in the following days, followed by empty lifeboats and the bodies of crewmembers who perished in the storm. With no witnesses to recount how and where the ship went down, her sinking remains a mystery to this day.
5. Remnants of the
Construction on this majestic vessel began in 1812 to protect the Lake Erie shoreline from the British. It served its purpose in 1813 when it acted as the flagship of Commodore Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie. Like many other warships, it was sunk for preservation. It was raised and first restored in 1913 (when this photo was taken).
A storm in 1864 battered the shores of Cleveland, particularly in what is now the Collinwood neighborhood. Just a few miles offshore, the
Sultan went down. It had hauled grindstones on its final journey, and the remnants of such are still visible at the wreck site today. Only one sailor escaped from the sinking ship. Today, the site is a grim reminder of the many lives lost on Lake Erie's tumultuous waters.
7. Remnants of the
G. P. Griffith
When this print was made in 1856, the disaster of the
G. P. Griffith was still fairly fresh in the minds of locals. The ship was first launched in 1848, weighing an impressive 587 tons. The passenger steamer, though charming, was destined for doom. Her first accident happened in 1849 when she collided with a Canadian schooner. Though she wasn't damaged, fortune was not in her favor. The ship burned and sank June 17, 1850. At least 241 people died in the disaster, including the captain and his family.
James B. Colgate
On a day that would go down in history as "Black Friday," aggressive winds ripped at Lake Erie. Many vessels were merely damaged, but the
Colgate was not so lucky. After a 24-year run as a cargo ship, she sank on October 20, 1916. There were 25 men who died in the wreck, as it was only equipped with one lifeboat. Ironically, the only survivor, the ship's captain, was rescued by the Marquette & Bessemer No.2 II, a ship named after its ill-fated predecessor.
Cleveland features a great deal of history, but these hidden wonders reveal that Lake Erie has its own secret history. Have you ever explored a shipwreck?
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