GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – It was discovered Sunday that one of the shipwreck remains exposed on Harbor Island in the fall is that of Historic Steamer, Aurora.
Low lake levels in the fall revealed at least five shipwrecked hulks across the edge of Harbor Island. Among the shipwrecks, remains were found from a larger vessel that had members of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates ingrigued. They began surveying the remains and through a study of the hull construction they learned the vessel was a large steamer that was at least 40-feet wide and 156-feet in length.
Valerie Van Heest, MRSA board member, Kenneth Pott, a maritime archaeologist and William Lafferty, of Lafferty Van Heest and Associates, narrowed down that the ship was one of two possibilities: the 185-foot L.L. Barth abandoned in Grand Haven in 1927 or the 290-foot Aurora, which was burned in 1932.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, Valarie and Jack Van Heest, Craig Rich and Larry Hatcher of the MSRA discovered that the structure was well over 200 feet long and through this information were able to determine that the vessel is that of Aurora.
Launched in July of 1887, the Aurora was the largest and most powerful wooden vessel on the Great Lakes. The ship weighed 3,000 tons. It was initially owned by John Corrigan of the Aurora Mining Company of Milwaukee. The company paid $150,000 to construct the ship. It was used to haul iron ore from the Gogebic Range Ironwood in Michigan to Cleveland. The ship would also ship coal to Michigan upon its return from Cleveland.
According to records that detail the ships build, The Aurora was created with Kentucky Oak. 5-inch wide iron straps were hot riveted into the hull and bent around the turn of the bilge. Bassett & Presley of Cleveland supplied the iron. The frame sizes and remaining iron strapping on the wreck are consistent with this information.
On Dec. 12, 1898, the Aurora burned to the water line at Bois Blanc, located in the Detroit River where it had been fast in ice for days. The owners spent $50,000 to rebuild the vessel into a barge.
The company eventually handed over the vessel during the downturn of the economy in 1927 and was towed to Grand Haven where it eventually burned in 1932. The remains were left in shallow water along the north side of Harbor Island.