Steamship America

July 15, 2018

Threads of Life Post

As we wandered about on our summer trek, we noticed little threads connecting many of the places we’ve seen. We didn’t intentionally go looking for these connections, they were just there. One of these threads belongs to the Steamer America.

Photo reproduced from

We first heard about the steamship America on Isle Royale. We were staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge on the north end of the island. During one of our wanders we came upon a large dock. The sign told us that this is where the steamship America docked to drop off and pick up passengers staying at the wilderness lodges and camps located on the island. We then learned that she sank near Washington Harbor and is still visible beneath the water at the south end of the island. We thought that was interesting and filed it away.

Jump ahead to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota. As we wandered around reading everything, as usual, we realized the shipwreck display in front of us contained salvage from the steamship America. There’s a spiral staircase and some dishes salvaged from the ship. Duluth was another of her ports. Wow, we thought, what a coincidence… And off we went.

Moving on to Split Rock Lighthouse. We took their very informative tour then explored the buildings and displays on our own. In the fog horn building there, in a glass case, was a life belt from the steamship America. Okay, we have figured out by now that we have this thread woven through our travels but we’re headed inland so goodbye America, it was fun learning about you.

Not so fast! John decided it was time to learn the history of the steamship America. He found that we unknowingly crossed her path another time on our summer trip. One of her ports of call was Michigan City, Indiana, way down at the bottom of Lake Michigan… which we went through when we visited Indiana Dunes.

That’s the end of Holly’s “color commentary.” Keep reading for John’s historical write up where he researched information and uses actual facts.


As Holly said, our paths crossed that of the steamship America quite a few times. Places where we crossed paths are in bold.

The steamship America was the belle of the North Shore. But that’s not where she got her start in life. She was built by the Detroit Dry Dock Company and launched on April 2, 1898. Shortly after that, she began a daily run on Lake Michigan between Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana.

In 1902 she was transferred to service in Lake Superior. She made three voyages per week between Duluth, Minnesota, Isle Royale, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Along the way, she made stops at Two Harbors, Split Rock, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage. For many people along the North Shore, the steamship America was their only link to the outside world.

If there wasn’t a safe harbor for her to dock at, she’d anchor off shore, blow her horn, and mail, passengers, supplies, and fish would be exchanged by small boat. She didn’t linger at any stop, just long enough to complete her business. Still, she was eagerly anticipated by the locals.

The America had her share of accidents. She ran aground in 1909 and again in 1914. In 1924 she struck a reef off Isle Royale, capsized, and sank. All the passengers and crew survived. She was refloated, repaired, and returned to service. In 1927 she rammed a dock and grounded. Then on June 7, 1928 she hit a reef off Washington Harbor on Isle Royale. The captain tried to beach her but she ran aground on another reef. As before, all the passengers and crew survived. The only fatality was a dog. This time, she was left to rest on the bottom of the lake.

But what really sank the America was progress. A road, Route 61, was being built from Duluth up the North Shore, slowly connecting the towns and villages along the way. Transportation of mail, goods, and people had become faster, cheaper, and more reliable by road. The America‘s era had come to an end.

If you want to learn more about the steamship America, watch this excellent hour long documentary on YouTube.


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