Museum and historic ships of the Great Lakes

Museum and historic ships of the Great Lakes

This is a list of museum ships and boats of the Great Lakes, North America, including surviving hulls, museum and/or historic ships at risk, other surviving historic hulls and interesting partial ships of note, etc.


Museum ships and boats, surviving hulls

Lakers: bulk carriers

Looming large in the public's imagination is the archetypical oreboat coming down from folklore, from the songs of Gordon Lightfoot and Stan Rogers to media reports of the Armistice Day Storm and shipwrecks . Some of the classic design still sail, a few with steam engines. One typical workhorse, the Valley Camp has survived and is open to the public. Three others, more highly developed and often fleet flagships, survive as well. A fifth, the Ridgetown, serves as a breakwater.

S S Col. James M Schoonmaker, Toledo, Oh

Willis B Boyer and the Buckeye in the Maumee River, Toledo. The Buckeye currently sails as the barge Lewis J. Kuber

The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company vessel that sailed from 1911 to 1980. She was originally owned by the Shenango Furnace Company, but renamed the Willis B Boyer under Cleveland Cliffs ownership. The Schoonmaker was the largest bulk freighter in the world when commissioned. In one of the most ambitious Great Lakes ship restorations to date, the Schoonmaker was re-christened with its original name July 1, 2011, on the 100th anniversary of the ship's launching in Toledo.[1] She is open to the public as a museum at International Park in Toledo, Ohio.

S S William G Mather, Cleveland, Oh

The William G. Mather, a laker built in 1925 and a former flagship for the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, has been turned into a maritime museum and is open to the public in Cleveland, Ohio in the North Coast Harbor.

MV Maumee, one of the oldest active bulk freighters on the Lakes, unloads in Holland, Michigan.

S S William A Irvin, Duluth-Superior, Minn-Wis

The William A Irvin was named for the president of U.S. Steel at the time of its launching and served as the flagship of US Steel's Great Lakes fleet from her launch in 1938 to 1975. It was the first laker to incorporate welding in its design and is open for tours at the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum in Duluth, Minnesota. Another museum ship, the Meteor, is the last surviving ship of the whaleback design, and is a museum in Superior, Wisconsin, which was the location of the American Steel Barge Company, where the whalebacks were built.

S S Valley Camp, Sault Ste. Marie, Mi

The Valley Camp was built in 1917 and served the National Steel Corporation, the Republic Steel Corporation, and Wilson Transit Co. during her 1917-1966 working life. She became a museum ship on the waterfront of the 'American Soo', downstream of the Soo Locks, in 1968. She holds many relics of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald including two of the Fitz's mauled lifeboats.

Passenger-freight steamers

S S Keewatin, Saugatuck, Mi

The SS Keewatin, a former Canadian Pacific passenger liner. Built in Scotland in 1907, the boat steamed between Fort William, Ontario and Port McNicoll for over 50 years until being sold for scrap in 1967. Saved from the wrecker's torch, the Keewatin was towed to Saugatuck, Michigan use as a museum in 1968. She is the last unmodified Great Lakes passenger liner in existence and a wonderful example of Edwardian luxury. Keewatin is one of the world's last coal-fired steamships. A Toronto Star article (June 24-07) documents a Canadian effort to see the venerable steamer returned to Dominion waters as a museum ship at Port McNicoll.

S S Milwaukee Clipper, Muskegon, Mi

The Milwaukee Clipper, another passenger steamer. Built in 1904, she served as a passenger/package freighter for the Pennsylvania Railroad marine division called the Anchor Line as the Stmr. Juniata. In 1940, after several years in layup, she was sold and converted to an excursion steamer between Muskegon & Milwaukee. Laid up in the 1970s, she lingered for 30 years before returning to Muskegon as a museum.

MS Norgoma, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont

The MS Norgoma, berthed in the Canadian Soo, was built as a steamer carrying freight and passengers in 1950. She ran from Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie from 1950 to 1963 on the so-called Turkey Trail. In 1963, the Norgoma was converted to a car ferry, her former role taken over by trucks, buses and automobiles. She ran between Tobermory to Manitoulin Island. At this time, the Norgoma was converted to diesel power. She became a museum ship in 1977.[2]

SS Norisle, Manitoulin Island, Ont

The SS Norisle is a museum ship berthed permanently at the Manitowaning Heritage Complex. It is one of three surviving running mates, the others being the Norgoma and the Normac. It was built in 1946, the first ship built in post-WW II Canada, using engines intended for a Royal Canadian destroyer. Norisle ran until 1974 when it was replaced by the MS Chi-Cheemaun. Plans call for sinking the Norisle as a tourist dive site. A group, Friends of The Norisle, some 200 strong, has formed to lobby against this loss of history.

Passenger/excursion steamers

S S Columbia, Detroit, Mi

The SS Columbia, a former Bob-Lo Island excursion boat built in 1902. It has sat in storage status since 1991. A New York City groups intends to save the Columbia and use it on the Hudson River like the Hudson Day steamers of yore, all of which were lost.

S S Ste Claire, Detroit, Mi

The edit] RR and auto ferries

SS City of Milwaukee, Manistee, Mi

The SS City of Milwaukee, was a railroad ferry of the Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company. Built in 1931 to replace a previous ferry, the SS Milwaukee, lost in 1929 with all hands. She sailed for this company for 40 years and another 5 for the Ann Arbor Railroad before laying up in Frankfort in 1982. She sat there until being sold for a museum. Later moved to her present berth in Manistee, she is open for tours as the last unmodified classic railroad ferry.

Trillium Toronto, Ont

The side-wheel steam ferry Trillium (1910) was reactivated in 1976 calls Toronto home. Several vintage 1930s screw ferries serve along side her.


Their small size and hardy construction make tugboats a favorite for museum ships. Smaller size mean few maintenance costs which can often be done by volunteer crews. Three steam tugs survive as well as three ex-army tugs later used for other purposes.

Steam tug Edna G, Two Harbors, Minn

The steam tugboat SS Edna G is in retirement as a floating display. Built in 1896, it was one of the last operating steam tugboats on the Great Lakes. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Steam tug Ned Hanlan, Toronto, Ont

The steamtug Ned Hanlan has been preserved ashore as a static display on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. Launched in 1932, the tug is one of three preserved steamtugs on the Great Lakes, the other being the James Whalen and the Edna G. Named for the famous oarsman Ned Hanlan.

Army tug LT-5, Oswego, NY

Former WW II Army tugboat Major Elisha K. Henson. Built in 1943, it partook in the D-Day Invasion at Normandy. Floating display, Operational. It worked as a commercial tug Nash for 30 years.[3]

Work tug, Duluth, Min

A Army Corps of Engineers tugboat Lake Superior serves as a popular photo shoot at Duluth's Canal Park.

Army Corps Tug Ludington, Kewaunee, Wi

Former Army Corps of Engineer tugboat Ludington. Built as an Army tug in 1943, it partook in the D-Day Invasion at Normandy. Floating display, non-operational. Ex-Major Wilbur Fr. Browder.[4]

Tug John Purves, Sturgeon Bay, Wis

The 1919 tug Butterfield was built for WW I but was sold into the Lake Superior pulp wood trade. During WW II, the boat was taken into government service as the USAT Butterfield, LT-145, serving in the Gulf of Alaska and the Being Sea . Roen Steamship Co acquired the tug, renaming it John Purves after the firm's general manager and using it as a salvage vessel. It was donated to the Door County Maritime Museum.

Steam tug James Whalen, Thunder Bay, Ont

The 1905 icebreaking tugboat James Whalen serves as a popular photo shoot at Kaministiquia Park. It was rescued in 1977 after it was slated for scrapping.[5]

Naval ships

The Great Lakes are home to a large number of naval craft serving as museums, including five submarines, two destroyers, and one cruiser. One may find the number of submarines surprising since the Great Lakes are not known for submarine activity, but the underseas service has always fired the imagination of many. Three former army tugs are museums, having come to the lakes in commercial roles.

USS Cobia, Manitowoc, W

The WW II submarine USS Cobia (SS-245) is operated by the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. It is a measure by which other submarine restorations are compared. It also operates the oldest radar set in the world.[6]

USS Cod, Cleveland, Oh

The WW II submarine USS Cod (SS-224) was brought to Cleveland in 1976 where it serves as a National Historic Landmark as well as a memorial to the 3900 submariners lost in their nation's service during the century of the US Navy's Submarine Force. It was awarded seven battle stars for its wartime service.

USS Croaker, Buffalo, NY

The WW II submarine USS Croaker (SS-246) was brought to Bufflo in 1988 where it serves along side the USS Sullivans and the USS Little Rock. It was modernized in 1953 as a hunter-killer submarine during the Cold War. It resides at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park.

HMCS Haida, Hamilton, Ont

The destroyerHMCS Haida is one of two surviving Canadian WW II warships.

USS Little Rock, Buffalo, NY

A Cold War era cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92) and one of two big gun cruisers preserved as museum ships in the US. It resides at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park.

LST 393, Muskegon, Mi

USS LST 393, a World War II tank landing ship launched in 1943, is available for tours at West Michigan Dock & Market in downtown Muskegon. Sporting the camouflage livery she wore at the end of the war, the ship worked as an automobile ferry between 1947 and 1973, under the name "M/V Highway 16" (after US Route 16 which was bridged by the ship between Muskegon and Milwaukee, WI). It was awarded three battle stars for war service.

USS Silversides, Buffalo, NY

The WW II submarine USS Silversides (SS-236) was once on displayed at Chicago's Navy Pier. It resides at Muskegon, Mi in 1987.

USS Sullivans, Buffalo, NY

The WW II Fletcher-class destroyer USS Sullivans (DD-537) named for five brothers killed in the line of duty. It earned nine battle stars for WW II and two for Korean service. It resides at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park.

U-boat 505, Chicago, Il

The WW II submarine U-505 was captured during the war, allowing the allies to capture its code books and the German Enigma code machine. Slated for sinking after the war for gunnery practice, the sub was instead donated to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. It was later moved inside to a climate-controlled environment, undergoing an extensive restoration. It was re-opened to the public in 2005.

Large government vessels

USCGC Acacia, Manistee, Mi

The USCGC Acacia (WLB-406) is a retired buoytender with icebreaking capabilities serving as a museum ship moored near the RR car ferry S S City of Milwaukee. The WW II vintage vessel serves as a tribute to the black painted workhorses of the USCG. A ribbon-cutting announcing the ship's new role as museum ship was celebrated in Manistee on August 13, 2011.[7]

USCGC Apalache, Cleveland, Oh

The USCGC Apalache is a retired 110' icebreaking tug based at Whiskey Island run by the Coast Guard Tug Association.[8]

BFD Edward M Cotter, Buffalo, NY

1900 city fireboat still in use. Also used for icebreaking duties. A National Historic Landmark.[9]

MS Georgian Queen, Penetanguishene, Ont

Georgian Queen, ex-Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking cutter converted into a tour boat.[10]

CCG Alexander Henry, Kingston, Ont

Former Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker edit] USCGC Mackinaw, Mackinaw City, Mi

The SS Mackinaw is a 290-foot (88 m) vessel specifically designed for ice breaking duties on the Great Lakes. LR number: 6119534 The Mackinaw was homeported in Cheboygan, Michigan during active service. Due to the Mackinaw's age and expensive upkeep, the cutter was decommissioned and replaced with a smaller multipurpose cutter USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30), which was commissioned in Cheboygan the same day. The old Mackinaw moved under its own power on June 21, 2006 from the port of its decommissioning to a permanent berth at the SS Chief Wawatam dock at the ship's namesake port, Mackinaw City, Michigan where she now serves as the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum

USCGC McLane, Muskegon, Mi

The McLane was a buck and a quarter cutter designed to chase rum runners during Prohibition. During WW II it served out of Ketchikan, Alaska and is generally credited with sinking the Japanese submarine RO-32.[11] A Chicago-based Sea Scout troop acquired the McLane after it was decommissioned in 1969. The Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum acquired the cutter in 1993.

Port Huron Lightship

Located ashore at the head of the Detroit River, it is the Great Lakes one surviving lightship.

Museum and/or historic ships at risk

A number of historic museum ships face uncertain futures.

USCGC Bramble

The USCGC Bramble (WLB-392), a former museum ship, has been put up for sale by its owner, the Port Huron Museum.[12] The city of St Clair, Mi rejected an option to host the Bramble as a museum ship in the summer of 2011.[13]

S S Norisle

SS Norisle at Manitoulin Island. Plans call for the ship to be towed and scuttled as a dive site. The "Friends of the Norisle" have formed to oppose this loss. Supportive articles and letters to the editor have appeared in the Manitoulin Expositor newspaper.

E M Ford

TheE M Ford, cement steamer, is as of August 2008, slated for scrapping at the end of the year or the beginning of 2009 according to press reports. She will face the same fate as the lost Lewis G Harriman.

Other surviving historic hulls and interesting partial ships of note

S S Ridgetown, Toronto, Ont

The S S Ridgetown was partially sunk as a breakwater (with stack and cabins intact) near Toronto at Port Credit. It was built in 1905 and is one of the oldest surviving hulls on the lake. Its stark silhouette provides an example of the appearance of early 1900s bulk carriers.

S S Benson Ford, Put-In-Bay, Oh

The Benson Ford was named after Henry Ford's grandson, and was the flagship of the Ford Motor Company (1924). The Pilot house is now donning a cliff on Put-In-Bay, Ohio. It is a private museum residence owned by Bryan Kasper of Sandusky, Ohio. It has been featured in many magazines and national television shows such as HGtv's Extreme Homes and Travel Channel's Extreme Vacation Homes. The pagoda-style cabin of the Ford provides a glimpse of what one of the grandest freighters on the lakes looked like.

S S Lewis G Harriman, DeTour, Mi

The stmr Lewis G Harriman's bow and bow superstructure are preserved here. The Harriman, launched as the purpose-built cement steamer John W Board, was scrapped but the bow was saved as a DeTour residence. Recently restored to the Boardman colors.

Failed museum attempts, ships scrapped

Several other lakers nearly became museums, but due to funding, political opposition or other causes, were scrapped.

  • S S Alabama - Goodrich Transit Line steamer later cut down as a barge, scrapped in 2009.
  • S S Canadiana - Famous Crystal Beach boat scrapped after preservationist ran up against opposition in the Buffalo city government and the city broadsheet.
  • Three masted schooner SV Alvin Clark - Built in 1846 for the lumber trade, she sank in Green Bay in 1864. She was raised in 1965 and taken to Menominee as a museum. After being severely neglected for a number of years, she was dismantled in 1998.
  • S S John Ericsson - The second-to-last whaleback freighter. The Ericsson was scrapped in 1969 in the city of Hamilton, Ontario. Politics, as was the case with the Canadiana, played a central role in the loss of the ship.
  • Wrecking tug Favorite - The Great Lakes most famous salvage tug, likened to the role played by the S S Foundation Franklin in the Canadian Maritimes. An attempt to save it at Sault Ste Marie next to the S S Valley Camp failed when state monies failed to materialize and the rivited hull begain to leak. Scrapped at Detour, Mi.
  • Lewis G Harriman - a 1923 purpose-built cement carrier, the first of her kind, that sailed from her launch until 1980. Used as a storage barge until 2003, a group tried to save her but bad communications within the company saw the ship sold in 2004 and scrapped in Sault Ste. Marie by Purvis Marine. The majority of the hull was fed to the Algoma Steel Mill but the fo'c'sle was saved as a summer cottage at Detour, Michigan.
  • Lansdowne – The paddlewheel steam railroad ferry Lansdowne, built in 1884, was modified to support a restaurant in antique railcars and the Huron, built in 1875, sank at a pier in Erie, Pennsylvania. The hull was raised but little other information as to the future of the vessel has been forthcoming. The hulk was towed to Buffalo, New York in July 2006. The mayor of Buffalo in the winter of 2008 called it an eyesore and called for its removal. The Lansdowne was scrapped in July 2008.
  • SS Niagara - 1897 built freighter, later converted to a sand-sucker. Scrapped in 1997 by Liberty Iron & Metal of Erie, Pennsylvania after a failed attempt to convert her into a museum in Erie. She had been saved from the scrapyard 11 years earlier.
  • SS Seaway Queen - The Canadian straight decker Seaway Queen, formerly owned by Upper Lakes Shipping was involved in an attempt to save her as a museum. In the end, the company failed to locate an organization that was capable and willing to preserve her and she was sold and scrapped in Alang, India in 2004.*SS
  • SSChief Wawatam - One of the world's most historic icebreakers and the last hand-fired coal steamer on the Great Lakes. The Wawatam was cut down to a barge, and finally scrapped by its owner Purvis Marine of Sault Ste Marie, Ont.
  • Three-masted schooner J.T. Wing - Last commercial sailing ship on the Great Lakes, used briefly in the lumber trade on the Great Lakes. She served as a training vessel before being grounded on Belle Isle in 1949 as a static museum ship. It waa burned before a crowd of 6000 in 1956.

Future museum potential

  • Arthur M. Anderson launched in 1952, is still running. She is famous for having had the last contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald before the latter sank. She was also the first would-be rescue vessel to search for the Fitzgerald.
  • Cement Steamers - The cement fleet of steamers is rapidly being supplanted by tug/barge combinations like the Integrity and Innovation. Historic cement steamers include the E M Ford (1898), the J B Ford (1904), the St. Mary's Challenger (1906), S T Crapo (1927), the J.A.W. Iglehart (1936), Alpena (1942), and the Paul H Townsend (1945.)
The Arthur M. Anderson unloading at Huron, Ohio in 2008. This boat was following and in contact with the ill-fated SS Edmund Fitzgerald on the night of 10 November 1975 and issued first distress call.
  • SSImperial Sarnia - 1948 built steam tanker. The Imperial Sarnia is ending her days as the dead bunkering vessel Provmar Terminal II in Hamilton, Ontario. While some freighters, such as Great Lakes bulk carriers, Liberty and Victory ships, have survived as museum ships, no conventional tankers have. The tanker museum ships that do exist, the Falls of Clyde and the Meteor, are known for being examples of unique vessel designs: an iron sailing ship and a whaleback, respectively.
  • Normac - 1902 built fire tug converted into passenger/packet steamer for the Owen Sound Transportation Company Ltd. Larger running mates Norisle and Norgoma have been converted into museum ships. After a stint as a floating restaurant in Toronto that was terminated when accidentally rammed by a ferry, the Normac was towed to Port Dalhousie, Ontario, where she serves as the floating cocktail lounge."
  • Viking I - The famed carferry languishes at the K & K Integrated Logistics Dock in Menominee, Mi. Launched in 1924 as Ann Arbor No. 7, ship was repowered and known for its icebreaking capabilities. The original pilothouse and a lifeboat are on display at the Bayfield Maritime Museum, Bayfield, Wisconsin.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "MS Norgoma:The Vessel". 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 
  3. ^ "H Lee White Marine Museum". H Lee White Marine Museum. 
  4. ^ "Old Tacoma Marine, Inc.". Old Tacoma Marine. 
  5. ^ Roberts, J. "The ice-breaker James Whalen". Thunder Bay Public Library. Retrieved 1922. 
  6. ^ ""WWII Submarine - USS Cobia". Retrieved 18 October 2010.". Wisconsin Maritime Museum. 
  7. ^ Productions, Car Ferry. "USCGC Acacia Dedication Video". Retrieved Aug 13, 2011. 
  8. ^ "USCGC Apalache". Coast Guard Tug Association. 
  9. ^ "". Buffalo Fire Department. 
  10. ^ BayCruises, Georgian. "MS Georgian Queen". Retrieved Aug 11, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Historic Naval Ships Association". 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Info on Viking I status". Historical Perspective---Featured Lake Boat. Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping Online. 

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