“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Vermilion in Erie County, Ohio — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

The Days of Steel Boats

Steel Shipbuilding in Vermilion

The Days of Steel Boats Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By J. J. Prats, February 14, 2020
1. The Days of Steel Boats Marker
Inscription.  By 1920 it was apparent that the building material of choice was steel. Between 1920 and 1957 over 25 steel boats were built in Vermilion. The establishment of the American Ship Building Company in nearby Lorain and other supporting industries such as steel mills and railroads, drained Vermilion of blacksmiths, carpenters, and ship carpenters — a workforce necessary for crafting wooden boats.

1920s: Building materials changed from wood to steel for smaller vessels as engines became more powerful. Captain Peter Full built two steel fishing boats along the river in 1923, the Ray F. and the Merle J. More complex than wooden construction, building with steel required skilled engineers, construction workers, bolters, machinists, laborers, foremen, shipfitters, plumbers, painters, marine riggers, tinners and others. While the rise of the steel boat industry led to the fall of the small wooden shipyards it did create jobs and strengthened the economies along the water.

1930s: Marks Welding Company brought steel building techniques to the Vermilion River during this decade. Boats were built on Douglas

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Street and launched at Lee’s Boatyard, the present site of Vermilion Power Boats. The first trap net tugs, Rich (1935) and Don (1939), were built by the Parsons Fish Company.

A series of boats built for commercial fisherman included gill netters; Beatrice (1944), Alma (1946), The Marie M. (1947), and Robert (1947), and trap netters; George L. (1945), J.C.S. (1946), Mystic II (1946), Verlyn H. (1946), Valiant (1947), Karen Lee (1950), and Verlyn H. II (1953).

1940s –1950s: The expansion of the lake carrier business was driven by increased boat and freight traffic on the lakes and rivers. Tight schedules and heavy workloads left little time for shore excursions by the crew. The solution was to bring the store and provisions to the workers aboard bumboats. Marks Welding Company built and sold several to Hyman Kaner in Duluth, MN who operated three bumboats on Lake Superior, the Kaner, Kaner II and Ted, each measuring 50 feet long and 52 tons.

Steel fishing tugs were built locally for local fisherman and sold throughout the Great Lakes as well. They prominently and proudly represented Vermilion’s steel boat craftsmen.

The Vermilion Engineering Company (VECO) operated a boat facility on Route 60, later moving to East Liberty Avenue,

Friendship Park, Vermilion Ohio image. Click for full size.
Photographed By J. J. Prats, February 14, 2020
2. Friendship Park, Vermilion Ohio
This marker is on the right. Public library windows face the park.
manufacturing open fishing boats in the trap netter tradition. Parsons Fish Company also built two trap net boats, The Pat (1945), and the Alma III (1945).

The fishing industry was beginning to decline so transitioning into pleasure boat manufacturing was a logical move. VECO produced a small cabin cruiser, the Coronet (1950), a 26' runabout (1954), and the following year a 26' cruiser, and a large cruiser Northern. Cross. At the same time they moved into the entertainment market with a class of passenger “party” boats such as the Helen K. (1954), Mary K. (1954), and Sea Hawk (1955). Parsons followed suit by building a steel cruiser, The Alma IV (1957).

Smaller boatyards and businesses including Marks Welding Company and VECO were limited to building smaller vessels consistent with the depth of the Vermilion River. Larger shipbuilding was left to bigger shipyards in Lorain and Cleveland where there was deep river access.

By the late 1950s the steel boat shipyards and the workforce that supported them phased out. Lightweight fiberglass construction for small and large commercial boats and pleasure craft had arrived.

Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Waterways & Vessels. A significant historical year for this entry is 1920.
Location. 41° 25.336′ 
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N, 82° 21.982′ W. Marker is in Vermilion, Ohio, in Erie County. Marker is on Liberty Avenue (U.S. 6) west of Grand Street, on the right when traveling west. It is at Friendship Park which is on the grounds of the public library. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 5680 Liberty Ave, Vermilion OH 44089, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 7 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Days of Wooden Ships (here, next to this marker); Vermilion / Erie County (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Lighthouse Lens (approx. 0.2 miles away); Vermilion’s Lighthouse (approx. 0.2 miles away); Lake Shore Electric Railway (approx. 0.4 miles away); Huron Iron Company Furnace (approx. 2.3 miles away); Lester Allan Pelton (approx. 2.4 miles away); Almon Ruggles, Surveyor of the Firelands / The Unknown Sailor and the Battle of Lake Erie (approx. 6.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Vermilion.
More about this marker. Across the bottom of this interpretive panel are photographs of a number of steel ships built in Vermilion showing name, year, type and who built them. They are the Ray F., 1923 fish tug built by Peter Full; the Rich, 1935 fish tug built by Marks Welding Co.; the Beatrice A., 1944 gill net tug built by Mark Welding Co.; the J.C.S., 1946 trap net tug built by Marks Welding Co.; the Marie M. 1941 gill net tug built by Marks Welding Co.; the Kanner, 1948 52 ton bumboat built by Marks Welding Co.; a runabout built in 1954 by Vermilion Engineering Co.; a cabin cruiser built in 1955 by Vermilion Engineering Co.; and the Sea Hawk, a 1955 party boat built by Vermilion Engineering Co. There is an additional un-captioned photograph in the upper left of the panel showing three men working on an unfinished steel boat.
Credits. This page was last revised on May 10, 2020. It was originally submitted on May 6, 2020, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 202 times since then and 57 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on May 6, 2020, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.   2. submitted on May 3, 2020, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
Editor’s want-list for this marker. Photos of Vermilion-built steel ships • Can you help?

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Dec. 6, 2023