Thursday, March 26, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Wisconsin, Welcome, North Shore - Jepson's Ferries - Part XIII

North Shore loaded with autos and passengers 
on a summertime run.  (year unknown)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Island businessman William Jepson was both innovator and builder.   He didn't hesitate in making capitol investments that would improve his ferry service, for which the Island benefitted greatly.

Jepson's ferry operation began with one wooden freighter, the Wisconsin, adapted to carrying autos when the demand arose.  By 1929 he built the ferry Welcome.  He also showed a willingness over the years to improve and expand his docks and vessels.

Examples of his enterprise are found in Door County Advocate (DCA) news items that were reprinted by Hannes Andersen in his book, Washington Island:  A Maritime History Through The Years, Vol. II (published in 2009 by Hannes M. Andersen).  Following are sample entries:
*   August 7, 1931 -  A fire was reported at Gislason's dock, a pier made of wooden piles, and despite using the ferry's pumps, the shed and most of its contents were destroyed.  The paper reported:  "The dock is owned by Capt. W. P. Jepson, of the ferry Welcome, and the burning warehouse contained merchandise of much value.  Fortunately the NE wind blew flames out over Detroit Harbor, rather than toward the moored ferry."
Whether Jepson had already begun improvements at Lobdell's Point by this date isn't known, but this fire may have hastened moving his operations to that new landing location.
*   Oct. 19, 1931 - It was reported that, "There has been a movement launched recently to build another   dock at Lobdell's Point, the west channel to  Detroit Harbor.  This is the question which has been under discussion for many years.  The idea is to have a dock outside of the shallowest part of the channel in plenty of water so larger boats can land.   One special feature also will be a permanent landing for the ferry, as the water where she now lands is very shallow.  The dock is also expected to have a tendency to attract people to purchase lots near there for building summer homes."
*  Aug. 16, 1935 -    "Land's End to Get Dock for Island Ferry - A new dock is to be built at Northport, the extreme end of the peninsula, by Capt. Wm. Jepsen (sic), owner and operator of the ferry boat Welcome, which runs between Washington Island and Gills Rock.  The dock at Northport will be used during early spring and fall and when weather conditions prevent a landing at Gills Rock.
"The dock will extend out from the shore 100 feet into eight or ten feet of water and will be built of cribs filled with stone, to withstand weather and ice conditions.  LeRoy Voight of Gills Rock will have charge of construction.
"The road that now leads to Northport, or what is commonly known as 'Land's End', as it is on the tip of the peninsula where the cable crosses Death's Door to Plum Island, will be improved under a project for which state and federal funds will be secured.  Improvement of the road is as important as the building of the dock, as it is used extensively by tourists who go to 'Land's End' to enjoy the beautiful view of the islands."

Jepson's decision to build a pier at Northport could not have been an easy one because it was an exposed location, lacking in nearby homes or amenities, and it would serve only those relatively few weeks or months each year when landing could not be made in Gills Rock, resulting in relatively small revenues.
One of the cribs assembled for first
construction of Northport Pier,
Oct. 25, 1935 -  In this DCA entry, Jepson's foresight in asking the Army Corps to dredge the channel to 14-ft. depth by 150-ft. width proved to be a wise suggestion. Until recent dredging operations were completed in 2014, those
numbers were the dimensions for the Detroit Harbor West Channel:

"HARBORS HEARING AT WASHINGTON ISLAND - Residents Give Views to Col. H. M. Tripp of Milwaukee - 

Statistics presented at the harbor hearing here Wednesday last week before Col. H. M. Tripp, U. S. Division Engineer from Milwaukee, showed the need of improvement in Jackson and Detroit Harbors…Assemblyman Frank Graass presented the argument for the town board of Washington and other interested parties.  Among the statistics cited were the following on incoming freight:   Coal, 800 tons;  lumber and building materials, 125 tons;  provisions, one store alone, 350 tons, valued at $37,600;  beer, 100 tons, $6,000.   In the outgoing freight form the island, fish was the largest item, as fishing is the principal industry.  Figures presented showed 1,005 tons shipped annually, amounting to $201, 000;  potatoes, 150 tons, together with cattle, $10,000….records of Capt. Wm. Jepson's ferry Welcome show that 1.765 people crossed the Door on this boat and 250 on the mail boat.  The ferry transported 1,624 automobiles between the Island and mainland…peak business of the ferry in one day this season was 52 automobiles and 700 people."

Several persons then testified, offering their suggestions for needed channel dimensions, including yachtsman U. J. Sport Herrmann (who believed 14-ft. should be the minimum), veteran fisherman John Cornell (who believed that a 12-ft. deep by 100-ft. wide channel would answer for Island commerce needs), and veteran ferryman Wm. Jepson (who believed there should be a 150-ft. wide channel with at least a minimum of 14-ft. depth).

In the end, Jepson's recommendations appeared to have carried the day.

*  Jan. 17, 1936  -  The DCA reported:   "Captain Jepson bought the North Shore No. 2 for good summer transportation.   Homecoming will no doubt bring tourists for the celebration."
The vessel North Shore had visited Island docks several times in previous years dropping off cargo, according to entries in Hannes Andersen's book.
*  Mar. 26, 1937 -   This DCA entry indicates that Jepson may have been setting his sights further afield than Washington Island in a search for new business opportunities.   Jepson's intention to service this proposed route would be cited a few years later as the reason why he sold his Island ferry business to Carl and Arni Richter:

At a meeting at the City Hall Tuesday evening, called by the Industrial Committee and presided over by E. M. LaPlant, the subject of establishing a boat service across Green Bay between Sturgeon Bay and the twin cities of Memominee and Marinette was reviewed and discussed.

Capt. W. P. Jepsen (sic) who owns and operates two boats on the run between Washington Island and Gills Rock during the summer was present and expressed himself as willing to place one of his boats on the run if business warranted such action.  Interested parties in Marinette had communicated with Capt. Jepsen offering their support of such a project.

While it is admitted that there would be little freight business at the start, there is reason to believe that the passenger and automobile business would be sufficient to give the schedule a trial, it was stated.  Capt. Jepsen's boat carries from eight to ten automobiles as well as 60 or more passengers.

(This vessel capacity appears to have been exaggerated, or it was a suggested capacity needed for a vessel on that run.)

***    ***  

Three vessels owned by Jepson for ferry service

Once Jepson's ferry service was established in the mid-1920s, he made a major investment in the construction of the ferry Welcome.  The Welcome was built in 1929 by Rieboldt & Wolter in Sturgeon Bay, and it measured 65 ft. x 24 ft. x 7 ft. draft when loaded.  It could carry 100 passengers and seven cars, as compared with 40 passengers and 4 autos parked crosswise (or thwartships) on the Wisconsin.   A fairly dramatic comparison of beam and bulk shows the two ferries moored in the ice in Detroit Harbor, with the Welcome overshadowing the Wisconsin.  (photo from Over and Back, loaned from Bell Collection)

Jepson's first ferry Wisconsin was built in 1916 in Green Bay, and we can presume that, when sold, the Wisconsin's hull was still sound, because under Chris Andersen's ownership she saw many more years service as a freight vessel, ranging up and down the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shoreline.
The same photo of the two vessels rail-to-rail was used in the
print ad for Kahlenberg engines (year unknown)

Here is what Roy Andersen said in a 1990 interview regarding the Wisconsin:

My Dad (Chris Andersen) and my brother Ray and I ran the Wisconsin for 21 years, hauling freight and oil.  We got her from Bill Jepson late in 1928, when he built the Welcome.  That was my first experience on the water.  I was 19 at the time.  The Wisconsin was built in Green Bay.  She had a 50/60 Kahlenberg engine.  We all took turns running her.  Whoever was at the wheel when we entered the harbor made the landing.  - 

(From Over and Back, published by WIFL in 1990.  Photo of the Andersens appeared in Over and Back and was loaned by Kristi Parsons, daughter of Ray Andersen.)

Father Chris, left, with sons Ray and Roy aboard Wisconsin.
(Kristi Parsons photo)

Jepson's Welcome became the first Island ferry built specifically for hauling autos as well as passengers and freight.  It was powered by a 150 HP Kahlenberg engine and served ably as an Island ferry for several decades, finally being eased out of service by the Richter's new all-steel Griffin in 1946.

The ferry Welcome should not be confused with the fish tug/mailboat Welcome, a boat Rasmus Hansen built in Jackson Harbor in 1926, used for fishing and later for hauling freight - of which boxes of fish made up the bulk of the cargo - by Carl and Arni Richter.  That same Welcome, with an altered superstructure, can still be seen today moored alongside the Town dock in Jackson Harbor.  The Koyens, Ken and Tom, fished this tug, although it has been a museum piece for the past 15 or so years.   The fish tug Welcome was slightly under 40 feet in length, with just under a 10 ft. beam, and it was originally powered by a 40 HP Straubel engine.    (More on the fish boat/mailboat Welcome in an upcoming blog.)

Pete Anderson's Navarre.  This blurred name was mistakenly
read as "Winneconne" on at least one occasion, but that
vessel name never existed, at least locally.  Photo from
Island Archives, taken early 1920s.
If we were to compare the smaller ferries Navarre (operated by Pete Anderson in the early 20s) and Jepson's Wisconsin with the ferry Welcome, we can see how those freighters were stop-gap, proving inadequate in the long run for hauling autos.  When Pete Anderson died in 1923, Bill Jepson helped Carl Christianson complete Anderson's mail contract.   Then, in 1924 Jepson applied for and received the mail contract, using his vessel Wisconsin on the open lake waters, and transiting with the mail over the ice when it was frozen.   Jepson would lose, then win back, the U. S. Mail contract several times in his career.

Mail exchange near Door Bluff.  In foreground with snow-track Ford is
believed to be Jepson, with Harry Newman holding a horse team.
(year unknown - published in Over and Back, from Bell Collection)

Business must have grown steadily for Jepson to consider the acquisition of the North Shore in 1936, seven years after building the Welcome.  Perhaps Jepson saw need for a second boat, not only to handle peaks in summer traffic, but also add the option to substitute one vessel for another if a malfunction of some sort temporarily tied up one of his ferries.  And we can read in Hannes Andersen's book where, in the off-season, the hauling of potatoes, fish and other freight had potential to bring in additional freight income, runs to ports that were not part of Jepson's regular ferry route. In that way his extra vessel would earn income in several ways.

        *            *             *

North Shore 

 Jepson took ownership of the North Shore in 1936, buying it from a Milwaukee man, William J. Lawrie, who used it for passenger excursions in summer and hauled freight with it in the fall of the year.  In the DCA entry cited earlier, it was called North Shore No. 2, reflecting the sinking of Lawrie's first North Shore in a storm on Lake Michigan, with loss of six lives, crewmen plus and several passengers.

Lawrie often sent his vessels north to Washington Island and the Garden Peninsula for potatoes, and to Escanaba for Christmas trees.  His boats also crossed the lake to lower Michigan for loads of peaches or apples.  Without dedicated cargo holds, the baskets of fruit or sacks of potatoes would be piled high on every available surface, a practice that may have led to a tender condition of low stability.    That his company lost several vessels, and lives, may have occurred for a variety of reasons that we can only speculate about today, but it seems more than simply "poor luck."   Circumstances may have included lack of attention to weather changes, poor decision making in both the office and on board, perhaps the hiring of inexperienced captains, and improper loading.

A reminscence in the 1980s with daughter Lois Lawrie Rehberg, Milwaukee (recorded in the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society newsletter "Soundings" and titled, "MY SAILOR DAD") contains the interesting history that led to the construction of the wooden North Shore, the "No. 2" purchased by William Jepson for service at Washington Island in 1936:

In 1930, the building and launching of a new 65' boat, North Shore, was a big thrill for our family. Walter Haertel, of Sturgeon Bay, was asked to design and supervise its construction.  Marine construction people from the whole Great Lakes area eagerly awaited its completion as it would be the first all-steel, all electrically welded passenger boat on the Great Lakes and the second in the United States.  The steel hull, built by  Mertes-Miller, 577 Barclay Street, was hauled a mile from the plant to the Kinnickinnic River for its launching on Thursday, June 19, 1930.  It was christened the North Shore by my mother, Meta, as a crowd of more than four hundred attended the ceremony.  It went into service immediately as a summer excursion boat like its predecessors, the Lois Pearl and the South Shore.  

A Mertes-Miller ad,  courtesy
of Eric Bonow.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the new, steel-hull North Shore was lost on a trip across the lake in the fall of its first year of service.

When four life preservers marked North Shore were found off Holland, Michigan, all hope of finding anyone faded.  However, even after pieces of the cabin and baskets of grapes were found, the search continued.  Two weeks after the boat was reported missing, the body of Arthur Peters, floating in a life preserver marked North Shore, was found thirty miles off Muskegon, Michigan.  Two other ships had gone down in the same storm.  I was devastated to learn that Captain Anderson was gone as I had a big crush on the handsome Norwegian.  

After the North Shore was lost in the fall of 1930, a new North Shore was built in 1931 to replace the first one.  It was 65' long with a 20' beam and was of wood construction.  The new boat was a double deck design, diesel-powered and capable of carrying 250 passengers.  The boat was launched at the Burger Boat yards on Saturday, June 26, 1931.  This time, I christened the boat --- the North Shore II. 
I was severn years old at the time and was not strong enough to break the bottle on the bow of the boat.  My dad helped me with the second swing of the bottle and the boat was launched.  It was an exciting day for me!

On July 4th, the North Shore II began its passenger run between South Shore and Juneau Park.  At this time, the Lois Pearl and South Shore were still in service.  The North Shore II continued its passenger and freight service and also operated in Chicago during the Century of Progress exhibition in the summer of 1933… In 1936, my dad sold the North Shore II to the Washington Island Ferry Line, and it was used  as a ferry boat to and from Washington Island and Northport, at the tip of Door County.  Then it was sold in 1946 to be used on the run to Charlevoix, Michigan, from St. James Harbor on Beaver Island.

Several things stand out in the above narrative, in addition to the most unfortunate sinking of the first North Shore and the lives that were lost that day.   That the hull was of welded steel, something new -  claimed by Ms. Rehberg to have been a first - and that it had been designed by Naval Architect Walter Haertel, invites comment.   Haertel was well known during his long career designing small commercial vessels.   Then, as now, there would have been blueprint review and construction oversight by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Many Great Lakes island ferry services, and excursion companies, sailed one or more vessels of Haertel's design.  Locally, the Griffin (1946), C. G. Richter (1950) and Voyageur (1960) came from Walter Haertel's drawing board and were well-designed and well-built.

There is no record of the first North Shore's wreck being located, and minus any survivors whose accounts would provide clues to the sinking, there can be very little speculation on what caused the vessel loss.  Today, with the help of modern technology, there would certainly be a thorough Coast Guard investigation, following possibly an underwater search, but at the time such an investigation was impossible.

How this innovative, welded hull might have influenced plans - or Coast Guard plan approval - for later passenger vessels is unknown.  Lawrie, bitten once with a welded steel design, decided to go with the more familiar wood construction for its replacement.  

    *         *         *         *

On Feb. 9, 1940 DCA reported this:

STEEL WELDED BOAT IS ORDERED HERE - Will be Operated by Capt. Jepson of Island

Door County's long sought auto ferry service between Sturgeon Bay and Marinette will become a reality next summer as a result of an announcement made this week by Capt. W. P. Jepson of Washington Island that he will put a new 100 ft. steel welded boat on the run beginning around June 1 and making one to two trips a day, depending on the demand.

Simultaneously, Capt. Jepson made known that he had sold to Arni Richter the ferry properties he operated for many years between the Island and Gills Rock, including the boats Welcome and North Shore and dock properties at both ends of the run.  Mr. Richter will combine the passenger service with carrying mail.  A contract to build the new ferry will be let to the Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Capt. Jepson said Wednesday.  The design will be about the same as the Welcome, a wooden boat also built here and will provide for carrying 200 passengers and 16 cars.  The engine will be diesel, 300 to 400 horse power.

Besides making scheduled trips, the boat will also be available for excursions on Green Bay.

Jepson's Sturgeon Bay - Marinette run never materialized, maybe reconsidered with an impending war effort underway to aid U. S. allies, but the ownership of the Washington Island Ferry Line officially shifted on April 11, 1940 to Carl and Arni Richter.

A favorite question of Arni's was to ask gathered family members on that anniversary date, "Do you know what day it is?"  Only after repeated times did we start to get the answer right, but we always wanted to hear the stories that led up to that decision to purchase the Jepson ferry line.

More on that in an upcoming blog…    

- Dick Purinton              

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