“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Silver Bay in Lake County, Minnesota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Historic Shipwrecks

Historic Shipwrecks Marker image. Click for full size.
July 26, 2022
1. Historic Shipwrecks Marker
Diver Discovery
The cold, clear waters of Lake Superior have preserved the remains of many important shipwrecks. In 1961, two divers located the wreck of the bulk freight steamer Hesper along the western breakwaters of the harbor. The wreck had lain forgotten for more than 50 years and the breakwater was unknowingly built over part of her remains. In spite of severe damage to its hull, many artifacts including the ship's bell, nameplate, compass, dishes, lamps, and brass fittings were recovered. The wreck provides a rare look at the techniques and materials used to construct vessels for transporting iron ore and grain on the Great Lakes during the 19th century.

The Hesper has become a very popular shipwreck for recreational scuba divers to explore. The practice of removing items from wrecks is now unlawful and not condoned by responsible divers today.

A diver carefully uncovers numbers inscribed on the Hesper's rudder.

These rocks and reefs have proved treacherous to three great lake ships. The Tampa was refloated and repaired
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at great expense. The Hesper still lies in its watery grave just hundreds of feet from your location. The Frontenac was damaged beyond its worth and never sailed again.

The Hesper was on her way to Duluth when she encountered a 60-mile per hour northeaster and was driven far off course to this present-day harbor. A late spring snowstorm reduced visibility to the extent that the crew could not regain its bearings. She was tossed against a reef and endured a terrible pounding. A tremendous wave threw the Hesper over the reef. The crew put up a valiant fight to save their ship, but the storm proved to be too much for them. Captain E.H. Heaton and his crew of 15 escaped in lifeboats with just minutes to spare. The lifeboat commanded by the mate made it safely to shore, rowing to the lee of a large rock. The captain's lifeboat, however, was blown toward the lake and had to seek shelter behind the island in front of you. There they waited until the storm abated and then rowed to Beaver Bay, ˝ mile down the lake.

At the time of the wreck, the Hesper was valued at $80,000. Even though the ship was considered a total loss, the motors, engines, boilers, shaft, and propeller were salvaged.

Imagine standing here on that early May day with the sound of the crashing waves roaring in your ears as you watch this
Historic Shipwrecks Marker <i>(left)</i> image. Click for full size.
July 26, 2022
2. Historic Shipwrecks Marker (left)
large vessel being destroyed. A fisherman who witnessed the sinking later testified: "Before the hull slid off into the deep water, her cabins and spars were washed off and the stack had also fallen. The deck came off after the boat went down and it is plain that she is badly broken up forward for her collision bulkhead came ashore. The steamer's steel towline is holding the fantail deck which floats on the surface and another section of the deck is held by the shrouds."

Samuel P. Ely: A battle with the big lake
The fates of two Great Lakes ship were forever linked on October 31, 1896. The Hesper was headed for Two Harbors to pick up a load of iron ore with the schooner barge Samuel P. Ely in tow. It was customary at the time to remove the sails from some vessels and convert them to barges for the iron ore and grain trade industries. The Hesper was designed to carry heavy cargo and tow other ships across the Great Lakes. Strong winds and high seas kept the Hesper and the Ely from reaching their destination before dark. Both were headed for the ore docks when the towline to the Ely either snapped or was released. The Ely dropped both anchors, but they would not hold. She went adrift and was smashed against the harbor's west breakwaters where she broke apart and sank. Fortunately, all members of
Silver Bay Marina marker kiosk, from the east image. Click for full size.
July 26, 2022
3. Silver Bay Marina marker kiosk, from the east
the crew survived due to the heroic efforts of a local fisherman and the crew of a small tugboat who risked their lives to pluck the men from the rigging of the doomed ship.

The wooden bulk freight steamer Tampa was launched in 1890 for the grain and coal trade. She was a stout ship at 291 feet long and 1,972 tons. On November 21, 1898, she was carrying 2,700 tons of coal when she encountered winds that gusted to over 100 miles per hour. Although running full speed into the wind, the Tampa was pushed toward the crashing surf along the rocky North Shore. Captain Leonard attempted to save his ship by turning toward shore to seek shelter behind the island in front of you. As luck would have it, the Tampa ran hard aground on a shallow reef. The captain, fearing that his ship would slide off the reef and sink, order the lifeboats launched. The lifeboats were able to row to the shelter of the island and wait out the remainder of the storm. After the crew rowed to Beaver Bay, a salvage company was summoned. The wooden ship had taken a beating from the storm and did not come off the reef easily. The salvage and repair bill came to over $50,000, more than the ship was worth! However, the Tampa sailed for many more years.

The Hesper can only be seen by diving to the wreckage. A white buoy marks the
Pellet Island, where ships in danger often sought shelter image. Click for full size.
July 26, 2022
4. Pellet Island, where ships in danger often sought shelter
site during the spring and summer seasons. The ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The Hesper was a wooden-hulled steamer with masts—a hybrid that marked the transition from wind power to mechanical power. Launched June 28, 1890, sank May 3, 1905.
Wooden "knees" that support the ship's deck.
Portion of forecastle deck lying on the ship's bottom.

news article:
Duluth Evening Herald   May 5, 1905
Captain and Crew Escape But Lose All Their Effects

Late yesterday afternoon a telegram was received at the office of G.A. Tomlinson in this city, announcing the loss of the steamer Hesper on the north, shore of Lake Superior near Beaver Bay about thirty-five miles above Two Harbors.
The telegram came from Captain E.H. Heaton by way of the Alger-Smith logging line, reaching Knife River and being transmitted from there to Duluth. It simply stated that the Hesper had gone ashore at Beaver Bay and was a total loss, and the members of the crew were all safe.
Last evening Capt. Heaton reached Two Harbors, having walked there from Beaver Bay. From him it was learned that the boat went ashore shortly before daylight on the same reef upon which the Tampa foundered twelve years ago. The sea on the lake was terrific and the rain and mist were so thick that it was impossible
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to see for any distance ahead. The shore was not made out until the vessel struck.
The captain and members of the crew, sixteen in number, got ashore in the life-boats which they were able to launch on the "lee" side of the vessel, but they lost all of their effects.
The sea was so heavy that by noon time the vessel was in pieces.
The accident was due to the loss of her bearings, the vessel drifting out of her course in the heavy sea and wind. She was running light, coming up for a cargo of ore and was due in Duluth yesterday morning at 9 o'clock.
The Hesper was built for M.A. Bradley, the well known vessel owner and operated in his line up to this year, when she was transferred to C.L. Hutchinson & Co. of Cleveland. She was a wooden boat 250 feet over all, with a beam of 41 feet and gross tonnage of 2160 tons.

Erected by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Waterways & Vessels. A significant historical date for this entry is June 28, 1890.
Location. 47° 16.378′ N, 91° 16.484′ W. Marker is in Silver Bay, Minnesota, in Lake County. Marker is on Marina Drive, 0.3 miles east of Bayside Park Road, on the left. Located at the Silver Bay Safe Harbor Public Marina off Highway 61. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 99 Beach Drive, Silver Bay MN 55614, 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. A Modern Shipwreck (here, next to this marker); Taconite Mining (here, next to this marker); Welcome to the Silver Bay Safe Harbor/Marina (here, next to this marker); Northshore Mining (approx. 1.4 miles away); Lake Superior Shipwrecks (approx. 1.6 miles away); About the City: Silver Bay, Minnesota (approx. 1.6 miles away); Palisade Head (approx. 4.3 miles away); Geology of the Split Rock Region (approx. 6.6 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Silver Bay.
Credits. This page was last revised on August 9, 2022. It was originally submitted on August 7, 2022. This page has been viewed 99 times since then and 11 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on August 7, 2022.   4. submitted on August 9, 2022.

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Apr. 13, 2024