The S.S. Michigan at Grand Haven

42° 48.005′, W 086° 30.986′, off Holland harbor, 275′ deep

Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates has located the wreck of the S. S. Michigan in 270 feet of water off Holland, Michigan. The discovery was made while MSRA members were scanning the lake bottom with David Trotter of Canton, Michigan who was also instrumental in the 2001 discovery of the H. C. Akeley off Saugatuck.

SS Michigan side scan image

SS Michigan side scan image

The search grid was determined after MSRA team members researched the story of the Michigan‘s loss and produced a video documentary in 2004. The search was conducted between June 1 and June 12, 2005 with the discovery made on Saturday, June 11.

It is evident that no other person or group has ever dived this shipwreck since divers in years past would undoubtedly have removed some of the artifacts that lie scattered on her deck. Today’s divers are prone to leave such artifacts in place. Plus, state laws make retrieval of artifacts a felony.

Take a tour with us on  the first-ever dive on the 275 foot deep S. S. Michigan

The steel hull of the S. S. Michigan lies upright and intact with her cabins and superstructure largely collapsed. The double ships wheel, two anchors and ship’s capstan and all easily accessed by technical divers. The capstan — once scraped clean of silt and zebra mussels by divers — revealed the words, S. S. Michigan and “Wyandotte, Michigan,” her port of origin.

Built as a sister ship to the S. S Wisconsin by the Detroit Dry Dock Company at Wyandotte, Michigan for the Goodrich Transportation Company, the S. S. Michigan was a sturdy iron-hulled passenger steamer. Goodrich had ordered three ships built in 1881 — the two propellers and a side-wheeler named the S. S. City of Milwaukee. She was powered by an F & AC compound engine with 27″ and 44″ cylinders and a 40 inch stroke. She had a 10 foot diameter, 18 foot long boiler built by De Soto & Hutton of Detroit. She was 203.9 feet long, 35.1 feet wide and had a draft of 11.7 feet. She was rated at 1,183 tons gross and 1,024 tons net.

SS Michigan wheel with diver

SS Michigan wheel with diver

The Michigan had five water-tight compartments and a double hull with three feet of space between the two hulls. She was launched August 20, 1881 in Detroit and taken to Milwaukee for fitting out. Her cabins were said to be the finest on the lakes and decorated without regard to cost, including oil paintings and the finest carpets and furniture.

The cabins, accommodating 123 passengers, extended the length of the vessel and were more spacious than usual. They were heated by steam.

The three ships operated successfully for the Goodrich Line for two years, but were then sold on May 1, 1883, to the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee railroad company.

SS Michigan anchors

SS Michigan anchors

On February 9, 1885, the Michigan left its winter port of Grand Haven with Captain Redmond Prindeville and 29 men aboard to assist the steamer Oneida which was struck fast in the ice. The Michigan also became caught in the ice, which was especially difficult that winter. On Tuesday, February 17, after more than a week, it was decided that 17 of the most hardy men would be chosen to walk to shore since there was not enough food for all. The temperature was about 10 degrees below zero as the party, armed with axes, pikes, ropes and rations, began their trek at about 7:00 am. The first members of the crew reached shore at West Casco Township in Allegan County (about 40 miles south of where the vessel departed) at about 5:00 PM after spending ten hours walking across the mountainous terrain of ever-moving ice. The party was housed by the local residents, then made their way to the train station at Bravo for the trip back to Grand Haven.

On the 21st, crew member George Sheldon left the steamer at 7:00 am and walked the distance to shore only to return to the vessel the following day laden with cigars, tobacco and newspapers for his fellow crew members.

SS michigan capstan

SS Michigan capstan

Sheldon repeated the trek on the 23rd, making the trip in five hours. Upon reaching shore he made a trip to Grand Haven on behalf of the crew, delivering letters and dispatches from the captain and crew. Sheldon returned from Grand Haven on the 25th and, aided by local Casco residents again made the trek out to the stranded vessel. Upon their arrival, the ice began to drift and two days later they found themselves 20 miles off Saugatuck. they lowered a yawl which they pushed, pulled and floated until reaching shore somewhere near Glenn.

On Sunday the steamer was seen locked in the ice opposite M. Chase’s farm seven miles north of where she was first spotted. She was reported opposite Saugatuck on Wednesday. Newspapers were speculating she would reach Grand Haven “after a while”.

On Thursday, March 19, the Michigan finally was claimed by the ice and slipped to her watery grave. Just prior to the ship’s demise, the crew swung a lifeboat over the side. Half the crew moved the boat a safe distance from the doomed vessel while the others prepared to also abandon ship. Captain Prindeville was the last to leave the mortally wounded ship. The crew watched from about 1/4 mile away as the tip of her mast disappeared in “about 300 feet of water,” according to local newspaper accounts.

The trip over the mountainous ice to the tug Arctic, which was lying about 4 miles off, took several hours. The crew managed to push the lifeboat along the ice and reached the tug without further loss or injury.

SS Michigan smokestack

SS Michigan smokestack

The crew members who spent the next few days on the Arctic were:

Captain Redmond Prindeville, First mate Jas. McManus, First Engineer Phillip Roth, Robert Mack, Casper Cooper, P. Daily, John Kann, J. Carney, Charles Robinson, James Monroe, Oscar Larson, J. Kahaman, John Wormsley.

After staying with the Arctic for several days, the crew walked to shore on Sunday, March 22, They arrived in Holland at 2:00 PM on Monday. They arrived in Grand haven on the 4 O’ Clock train.

Drawing of the Michigan by Robert Doornbos

Drawing of the Michigan by Robert Doornbos

Underwater photos by Todd White