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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Walter B. Allen Shipwreck (Canaller)
7 miles norteast of Sheboygan in Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County
Year Built: 1866
Builder: H.C. Pierson

Canallers were a unique vessel type developed on the Great Lakes. They were designed to fit through the Welland Canal locks while carrying the maximum amount of cargo with only inches to spare. Grain was transported from ports on western Lake Michigan, collected from the newly settled farmlands of the Midwest, to eastern ports on Lakes Erie and Ontario (largely the cities of Buffalo, Oswego, and Ogdensburg, New York, and Kingston, Ontario). Vessels returning to Lake Michigan often were loaded with coal, used for heating Midwestern cities and powering factories.

Grain schooners made the Oswego-Chicago round trip in thirty to thirty-five days, and six to seven trips were completed seasonally. The heyday of the canallers and the grain trade was short lived. By the late 1870s, the railroad was gaining ever-larger shares of Lake Michigan grain, and in 1880 rail tonnage finally exceeded lake tonnage.

Canallers had bluff bows, flat bottoms and sterns, short bowsprits, and highly-canted jibbooms. Some canallers were rigged with a hinged or shortened jib boom that could be folded, removed, or de-rigged for passage through the locks. Due to their boxy shape, there were claims that canallers were notoriously poor sailors in heavy weather, a claim supported by the fact that one particularly violent storm in October 1873 sent six canallers to the bottom with all hands.

No extant examples of canallers are known to exist. Society staff maritime archaeologists and their many volunteers have identified several canallers in Wisconsin's waters. No historical record of the canaller construction exists today, making archaeological examples like the Walter B. Allen particularly significant. The Walter B. Allen is one of the best preserved of all known shipwreck examples. Information gathered from the Walter B. Allen site has increased our understanding of canal schooner construction and use on the Great Lakes. Due to the high level of vessel integrity, the Walter B. Allen site has the potential to yield even further insight into this vessel class in future years.

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.

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