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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Port Washington in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

Sidewheel Steamer Niagara

Historic Shipwreck

 

—Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails —

 
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker (left panel) image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
1. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker (left panel)
Inscription.
Type: sidewheel “palace steamer”
Built: 1846, Bidwell & Banta, Buffalo, N.Y.
Sank: Sept. 24, 1856, burned
Length: 245’
Beam: 33’
Cargoes: passengers, package freight
Propulsion: single-cylinder walking beam engine, sidewheels Depth: 55’

From 1844 to 1857, lavish vessels known as “palace steamers” dominated Great Lakes passenger and package trade. Carrying hundreds of passengers and large cargoes, these opulent boats offered the fastest and most dependable transportation between the East and the Midwest before railroads connected these regions. Considered “the most beautifully appointed craft ever built on the Lakes,” palace steamers marked the pinnacle of Great Lakes passenger service. The Niagara, the second of 25 palace steamers to work the lakes, was a familiar sight along western Lake Michigan and brought thousands of settlers to Wisconsin.

On September 23, 1856, the Niagara left Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for Port Washington. Around 4 p.m., fire broke out. The engines soon quit, bringing the vessel’s giant paddlewheels to a halt. As smoke and flames engulfed the boat 4-5 miles offshore, passengers panicked, causing one of Wisconsin’s deadliest transportation disasters. Despite rescue efforts, over 60 people died, many from drowning
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
2. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker
Close-up of ship information
while frantically trying to board the lifeboats. Today, the remains of the Niagara memorialize the people and the vessels that fueled the early growth and development of the Midwest.

Through the Maritime Trails, the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Sea Grant are working with local communities to preserve our maritime heritage. To learn more, visit www.maritimetrails.org.
 
Erected by Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails marker series.
 
Location. 43° 23.306′ N, 87° 52.082′ W. Marker is in Port Washington, Wisconsin, in Ozaukee County. Marker can be reached from East Main Street 0.1 miles east of North Franklin Street (Wisconsin Route 32). Click for map. Marker is located at Port Harbor Center. Marker is at or near this postal address: 218 East Main Street, Port Washington WI 53074, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Wisconsin Chair Company Fire (a few steps from this marker); The Wilson House (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Of Valor and Sorrow (about 500 feet away); Those That Fished
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
3. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker
Close-up of lower right pictures.
(about 500 feet away); A Lakefront in Transition (about 500 feet away); The Art of Commercial Fishing (about 500 feet away); They Had To Go A Fishin' (about 500 feet away); a different marker also named Those That Fished (about 500 feet away). Click for a list of all markers in Port Washington.
 
More about this marker. On the lower left is a sketch with the caption, "Underwater archaeologists prepared detailed drawings of the Niagara during an investigation of the site. This study provides a wealth of information about nineteenth-century maritime life and ship construction, while assisting in the management and preservation of the site."

On the right is a sketch with the caption, "The walking beam is a signature feature of sidewheel steamers. The diamond shaped apparatus transferred power from the Niagara’s powerful single cylinder, 14’ long and 6’ in diameter, to the paddlewheels, propelling the vessel up to 15 mph."

On the lower right are "These two images depict the Niagara’s paddlewheel before and after damage done by wreck looters and reckless anchoring. Before, the majestic intact paddlewheel
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
4. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker
Archaelogical Site Plan
stood as a rare attraction for divers, historians, and archaeologists. Today, the paddlewheel lies collapsed on the lakebed, as a result of looters hunting for artifacts below the wheel itself. Shipwrecks are non-renewable historic resources. By taking only pictures and leaving only bubbles, divers allow future generations to enjoy and explore these underwater museums."

On top of the right panel is a drawing of "Port Washington Harbor circa 1856" with the caption, "A pall of smoke rises to the northeast as the sidewheeler Niagara is consumed in flames>"

On bottom of the right panel are several photographs with the captions: "Captain and future beer baron Frederick Pabst lead the rescue of Niagara's passengers from a yawl launched by the nearby steamer Traveler."; ""Frozen Charlotte," child's porceline toy figurine, recovered from the shipwreck in the early 1970's."; "Bull's-eye patterned china, pulled from beneath the wreck's engine bed."; "An anchor memorializes the sixty-plus victims of the Niagara sinking in Port Washington's Union Cemetery." Also shown is a sketch with the caption, "The Niagara steams from Buffalo, headed for points West, c.1847 from Edwin Whitefield's View of American Cities."
 
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker. To better understand the relationship, study
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker (right panel) image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
5. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker (right panel)
each marker in the order shown.
 
Also see . . .
1. Niagara. Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks (Submitted on September 12, 2011, by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin.) 

2. Detailed Information for Niagara (1846). Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails (Submitted on September 12, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
 
Additional keywords. Shipwrecks
 
Categories. Waterways & Vessels
 
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
6. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker
Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, September 8, 2011
7. Sidewheel Steamer Niagara Marker
along the Port Washington harbor
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 810 times since then and 6 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on , by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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