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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Wisconsin Shipwreck
Lake Michigan, Kenosha County
Builders: Frank Kirby, Detroit Dry Dock Company Dates of construction: 1881, 1909

Six miles southeast of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the 204-foot iron package steamer Wisconsin lies in 125 feet of water. Built in 1881 at the Detroit Dry Dock Company in Wyandotte, Michigan, the wreck of the Wisconsin is one of only a handful of iron steamers in Wisconsin waters. The Wisconsin foundered due to an unknown leak during a violent storm in October 1929, and today her lower hull lies upright and mostly intact on the lakebed.

The Wisconsin is representative of early iron hulled ship construction. She was the first iron vessel on the Great Lakes constructed with a double bottom and a movable water ballast system, and an iron forefoot capable of riding up on and crushing ice to allow year round navigation on Lake Michigan. During her 48 years of service, the Wisconsin served Lake Michigan┐s cross lake freight trade under many names- Wisconsin, Naomi, E.G. Crosby, and Pilgrim, before returning to the name Wisconsin. She also briefly served as a convalescent hospital ship named General Robert M. O┐Reilly during WWI.

The Wisconsin allows historians, archaeologists, and divers the rare opportunity to examine early metal ship construction on the Great Lakes, early examples of modern ship design such as double hulls, and a movable water ballast system. In addition to her unique construction features, the Wisconsin represents a vessel type that has little representation in Wisconsin┐s collection of well-preserved shipwrecks ┐ the package steamer. Designed to run regular year-round scheduled routes between Lake Michigan cities, the Wisconsin sank with a cargo that represents a cross section of the everyday goods used in the early twentieth-century life that remains well-preserved in her intact hold. Much of our understanding of this vessel type and her unique construction features lies on the lakebed and comes from archaeological data recovered from the wreck site.

More information on Wisconsin's historic shipwrecks may be found by visiting Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks website.

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