Island City Shipwreck (Schooner)
9 miles southeast of Port Washington in Lake Michigan, Ozaukee County
Year built: 1859
Builder: Peter Perry
Located west of Mequon and nine miles southeast of Port Washington in Lake Michigan the schooner Island City lies in 135 feet of water, somewhat broken up, but with nearly all hull structure and rigging present. Shipwright Peter Perry constructed the small lakeshoring schooner on Harsens Island, Michigan, in 1859. The Island City worked as a lakeshoring vessel on Lake St. Clair primarily carrying produce and merchandise between small unimproved ports and Detroit, Michigan. Her final years of operation were spent on Lake Michigan during the lumber industry boom. While enroute from Ludington, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Island City encountered a storm, sprung a leak, and sank south of Port Washington.
Small trading schooners like the Island City served as a springboard for many immigrants to earn a living and increase their wealth in the growing American industrial economy. For many immigrants, vessels of this class provided an opportunity to break out of the local labor market to become vessel Masters and owners. Trading schooners like the Island City frequently changed ownership during their careers, often moving from one small Lake Michigan port to another as they were sold and traded – occasionally several times a season. This pattern of changing ownership is common in vessels of this class, but the economic and cultural rational behind this pattern is poorly understood today, and only though the study of other similar vessels will the reason for this practice become clear.
Today, the Island City is representative of a relatively undocumented vessel type, the Great Lakes lakeshoring schooner, and provides historians and archaeologists the rare chance to study this little-documented vessel class. Once common on the Great Lakes, these small schooners occupied a special niche in the Great Lakes' regional economy, providing important economic and cultural links between frontier coastal communities. Their construction and operation was largely undocumented during the nineteenth century, however, and today the lakeshoring schooner is one of the least understood vessel classes to have sailed the Great Lakes.
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 Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Shipwrecks website.