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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Northerner Shipwreck (T. Thomsen photo, 2009)

Northerner Shipwreck (WHS site plan, 2009)

Northerner Shipwreck (Schooner)
Lake Michigan, Town Grafton, Ozaukee County
Construction date: circa 1850
Builder: John Oades

Five miles southeast of Port Washington, the 81-foot schooner Northerner lies in 130 feet of water. Well-known shipwright John Oades of Clayton, New York constructed the small lakeshoring schooner in 1850. The Northerner began working as a lakeshoring vessel on Lake Ontario under the command of Captain Russell Disbrow of Ogdensburg, New York, carrying general merchandise for Henry T. Bacon to ports on both the American and Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Her last five years of operation, however, were spent on Lake Michigan during the lumber industry boom. While loading at a pier at Amsterdam, Wisconsin, in 1868, the Northerner suffered hull damage and was subsequently lost while being towed to Milwaukee for repairs.

The Northerner is a rare example of a vessel type that was vital to the Great Lakes' economic and transportation infrastructure prior to the development of road and rail networks. Lakeshoring schooners like the Northerner were an important link for hinterland communities, connecting them economically and culturally with the wider regional markets. There are only a few archaeological examples of small lakeshoring schooners known in Wisconsin today, and the Northerner's hull retains excellent archaeological integrity. No historical record of lakeshoring schooner construction exists today, making archaeological examples particularly significant. Their construction techniques and the economic rationale behind their design and operation are poorly understood. Information gathered from the Northerner site has broadened our understanding of lakeshoring vessel construction and use, and holds vast potential to yield further significant information essential to understanding nineteenth-century maritime commerce, vessel construction, and the lakeshoring trade.

State and federal laws protect this shipwreck. Divers may not remove artifacts or structure when visiting this shipwreck site. Removing, defacing, displacing or destroying artifacts or sites is a crime. More information on Wisconsin's historic shipwrecks may be found by visiting Wisconsinís Great Lakes Shipwrecks website.

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