Friday, June 22, 2012


This chart was one several purchased on e-Bay by Eric Bonow.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

In the mail the other day was an envelope from Eric Bonow that contained a copy of a chart of Death's Door waters, by the U. S. Navy Hydrographic Office, that was published as a Notice to Mariners in 1895.   Eric had purchased several of these Great Lakes Notice to Mariner charts through eBay.

This mapping effort apparently satisfied requests by maritime interests for more accurate information about Nine Foot Shoals, adjacent to what is now the Waverly Shoals buoy, and the Middle Shoals located midway between Plum and Detroit Islands.  This is referred to locally as the "Middle Ground."

Eric went one better and researched old Door County Advocates to find out more about the two wrecks shown on the Middle Shoals.  His findings are as follows:

Door Co. Advocate, 3/23/1895:  Detroit Harbor Notes. The rocky shoal about half way between Plum and Detroit Islands and marked by a red spar buoy during the months of navigation is made more dangerous since the schooner H. M. Scove went to pieces there.  Her entire bottom is anchored there on the shallowest spot by a lot of cobble stones placed between her frames to stiffen her while sailing.  They now keep the bottom there intact so there is only six feet four inches of water over the bottom with high water, while there would be considerably less with low water or a high sea running.

Door Co. Advocate,  10/3/1919:  MARQUETTE IN TROUBLE
Steamer Brought Here For Removal of Old Schooner Scove Cables Which Were Wrapped Up In Wheel.
   The passenger and freight steamer City of Marquette, owned by W.W. Hill, which has been on the Green Bay run the last couple of years, was towed into port Saturday by the tug Search of Washington Island and docked at the Universal yard for the purpose of having an old shroud cable taken off her wheel.
   The entire top rigging of the old wrecked schooner Scove was wound up in the Marquette's wheel as the steamer lay at the Richter dock at Detroit Harbor.  When the Marquette attempted to swing around the cable was picked up.  Diver Pearl Purdy and assistant Ed. Donovan went to the Island Tuesday of last week to relieve the steamer but the job was too big for Diver Purdy.  There were scores of strands of the cable wrapped about the wheel.  An acetelyne (sic) torch was used to cut the wire away and the job was completed in 55 minutes.  The Marquette left the same day for Detroit Harbor.
   The Scove was wrecked on a reef off Plum Island nearly 30 years ago and when her spars fell several years later fishermen towed the top works  into Detroit Harbor and dropped it near the Richter dock expecting to salvage it at some time.  In recent years it was forgotten and it was thought the ice had taken hold of the old topmast and dragged it off into the bay.

Pearl Purdy was a name I had just become familiar with a day or two earlier, when reading parts of FOUR ISLANDS: A History of Detroit, Rock, St. Martins, and Washington Islands (published in 1984), by former Jackson Harbor resident and island commercial fisherman Raymond E. McDonald.  McDonald recounted an incident involving the steam tug Kate Williams:

"A bad blow came up one day, from the north, and blew very hard that night.  It was too much for the anchor chain and it parted, letting her drift in between Washington Island and Rock Island.  The seas pushed her up quite high on the rocks, and she was soon lying over on her side with not much water under her.
"The tug "Leathem Smith" came up from Sturgeon Bay with a barge and all necessary equipment to release and salvage her.  Although this was a big and powerful tug, they could not release her.  This happened in 1909.  They gave up the attempt but they recovered the steam boiler and the engine and all pumps, etc. that were useful.
"A new tug was built at Sturgeon Bay and all this machinery was used to power it.  They named her the "John Hunsader."
"Pearl Purdy was the diver who was used in the effort to salvage the "Kate Williams."  He was form Sturgeon Bay and quite a young man and of very slight build.  The tug "Leathem Smith" was over 100 feet long - - not a small tug. Hank Tuft was captain.  Ed Weber and Pat Writt were the engineers.  They were all from Sturgeon Bay.  The "Leathem Smith" had living quarters for the whole crew and carried a cook.   She would run up in the mud near McDonald's dock and lay there, no need for an anchor.
"Pearl Purdy had used dynamite on the "Kate Williams" to free some of the shafts, etc.  He would sometimes set off a dynamite cap in the water near the "Leathem Smith" in Jackson Harbor.  This would stun the perch and they would float to the top.  Then they could be gathered in and there was plenty of nice perch for dinner.  One day he made a mistake some place, and instead of perch he blew off three of his fingers.  They brought him into McDonald's, who hitched up the horse to the buggy and rushed him right to the doctor, seven miles away.  The doctor trimmed up the stumps and sewed him up. They did not have much of anything then to kill the pain, but on the way out they stopped in at Mrs. Charlie Johnson's to see if she had some whiskey.  She did and they gave Pearl a generous amount, which no doubt was a great help.
"Pearl Purdy followed shipping for the rest of his life, out of Sturgeon Bay, until one fatal trip on the steamer "Clifton" out of Sturgeon Bay in the fall of 1924, when she foundered in a bad storm on Lake Huron.  The entire crew was lost.  Most of this crew was from Sturgeon Bay."

So, several interesting connections.  But, back to the chart shown at the top of the page.   You might have a hard time reading the fine print, but alongside the dotted line to the north of Pilot Island is this notation (I'm guessing at letters where chart paper is torn):

Track recommended by Lighthouse Keeper for all vessels during strong southerly winds.

The track to the south of Pilot has the note:  General Track

In October of 1892, in the course of three days, three sailing ships wrecked on Pilot Island. The Light Keeper's advisory to sail north of the island in a strong southerly wind may have resulted from that occasion and was subsequently issued as advice to mariners.  From personal experience, I've always been surprised at just how far the lobe of shelf rock extends southward from the island, while to the north it possible to nearly place a bow against the island.

This chart does not show the Plum Island range lights, but that project was in the funding pipeline when this chart was developed.  According to information from Door County lighthouse historian Steve Karges, Congress appropriated funding in 1895, and in August of 1896 a crew of 30 men began work clearing forest in preparation for erection of the range lights and associated U. S. Lighthouse Service buildings.  By May of 1897, the range lights were exhibited for the first time, under the supervision of Martin Knudsen, the same man who was Keeper on Pilot Island during the 1892 incidents, for which he received a commendation.

Our appreciation to Eric Bonow for passing along the Death's Door chart.

-   Dick Purinton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might want to have this person check out these old US Lake Survey Maps of the area, too:

I work at UW Madison.

Good luck!
Anne Moser