Where Is The TWO FRIENDS? – Fall 1975

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Walter M. Hirthe

Where is the Two Friends? The question was being asked by two skin divers on a cold and windy day in the fall of 1969. “Over there,” I said pointing across North Bay to a reef at the entrance to Lake Michigan “just off Marshall’s Point.” Although the weather was very severe these determined viers disappeared after receiving our directions for reaching this relatively inaccessible area in Door County, Wisconsin. The location I had given for the final resting place of the Two Friends was consistent with books1,2,3 and charts 4,5concerning the marine history of Door County. Since that time I have been able to review a part of this history and will now relate the true life story of the Two Friends. 

Artist depiction of the sidewheel steamer ALPENA in the storm.

The Two Friends was built in August 1873, at Port Burwell, Ontario, by L. McDermand for Suffel, et al of Port Burwell. She was rigged as a bark of 319 tons, class A-l, value $19,000. (Inland Lloyds, 1875) The Two Friends was one of many vessels on Lake Michigan October 16, 1880, during a storm which has been described by many as the worst in memory. It has been referred to as the “Alpena Gale” because of the loss of the Goodrich steamer Alpena. Mansfield6 provides the following description: “One of the storms that have great cause to be remembered in lake shipping circles swept over Lake Michigan October 16, 1880. The weather on October 15 was warm and pleasant, the thermometer ranging from 60° to 70°. Light northerly winds prevailed over Lake Superior and southerly over Lake Michigan. The storm began about midnight on the 16th with easterly shifting to southwesterly winds at the Straits of Mackinac, and southwesterly from Grand Haven southward. Violent southwesterly gales on Lake Michigan raged all day of the 16th and part of the 17th. The temperature dropped from 65° to the freezing point, and snow fell as far south as Chicago. The loss of lives was very great, nearly 100 souls going down on the Goodrich liner Alpena, Grand Haven to Chicago. This vessel was last seen about 30 miles from Chicago. In all about 90 vessels were wrecked or badly damaged, and 118 lives were lost as a result of this storm.”

Another contemporary account of the nature and intensity of this storm is given in the Door County Advocate7: “The blow which set in from the south early Saturday morning is said by all who had an opportunity to see its effects on the bay and lake to have been one of the severest ever encountered in this latitude. As a consequence a large number of vessels have been wrecked and driven ashore at the foot of Lake Michigan, many of them being damaged so that they will have to be abandoned. Upward of twenty craft have found the beach between Kewaunee and Death’s Door, a distance of fifty miles.”

In North Bay a fleet of nearly thirty vessels had sought refuge from the storm. The vessels were mostly of the larger class and were either bound for Buffalo loaded with grain, or were on their way from ‘that port to Chicago. Among this fleet was the Two Friends, deeply laden with salt. Being the last to arrive, and as the bay was crowded, she was compelled to anchor in an exposed berth directly at the entrance, where the sea had an unbroken sweep from the Lake and it was very rough. She came to with both anchors at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 16th, and two hours later dragged ashore on the northerly side of the bay where she almost immediately swung broadside to the sea, and fell over on her starboard side, or offshore. Thus exposed, her deck was in a very short time swept of everything movable, the cabin was smashed in, the boat was washed from the davits and stove in pieces on the rocky shore, and the crew were driven to the rigging. A detailed account of their rescue by a local fisherman, James Larson of Sister Bay, Door County, Wisconsin, is given in a United States Life Saving Service Report8 and in Fredrickson.

A brief but interesting report of the rescue is given in the Door County Advocate9 as follows: “While the schooner Two Friends was on the beach, says the Manitowoc Journal, a fisherman whose name we are unable to learn, went out in that terrible sea, to rescue the hands. He had nothing but a little skiff and while the waves were washing over the schooner, he went out eight times, each time being able to take but one man, on account of the size of the boat and succeeded in rescuing all hands.” James Larson, born in Denmark in 1855, was awarded a gold medal for this very gallant rescue. He later moved to Marinette, Wisconsin, where he became a shipbuilder and lake captain, and represented Marinette County in the State Legislature.

With respect to the condition of the Two Friends, she is referred to as a total loss. From the Advocate:10 “The Gardner* reports the bottom out of the schooner Two Friends, ashore at North Bay, and the vessel is a total loss. She has been stripped.” And later in the same column, “The tug Champion left Detroit two or three days ago to assist the schooner Two Friends, ashore at North Bay. The Two Friends is, however, a total loss, and the Champion’s long journey will be in vain.” From Fredrickson:’ “A century old anchor from the bark Two Friends is now used as a lawn decoration at Gordon’s Lodge at North Bay, near Bailey’s Harbor, Wisconsin. Recently, the remains of the Two Friends have been found by skin divers on Marshall’s Reef in North Bay. She lies in about twenty feet of water.” However, despite the above, the Two Friends did not meet her end in North Bay. In fact she was very “young” at the time of her experiences in one of the greatest storms of all.

*Probably the tug G. W. Gardner built in June 1862 at Cleveland by Quayle and Martin and based in Chicago.

Evidence of her after-life began to appear in the Advocate:11 “Wm. Marshall, of North Bay, reports that the Canadian schooner Two Friends, which was driven ashore at that place during the October storm, still remains in about the condition she was after the blow. Her hold full of bulk salt has been entirely washed out, not a particle remaining. Mr. Marshall has a claim of $150 against the owners of the vessel for boarding and caring for the ship-wrecked crew, which the underwriters have promised to liquidate.”

William Marshall, who lived on the north point of North Bay known at the time as Craignar, was a native of Scotland, born in the village of The Bridge-of Dee in 1839. He left Scotland in the spring of 1868 and sailed right for North Bay, to be under the employ of G. C. Thompson, who was owner of considerable land in Liberty Grove Township, part of the Liberty Grove property being located on the north point of North Bay. Mr. Thompson’s holdings were sold at the United States marshal’s sale in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Richard Irvin and Company, bankers and brokers in New York. William Marshall acted as agent with power of attorney for the company and supervised the sale of lumber and stone from the North Bay property.12 In December 1880, while Mr. Marshall was at Sturgeon Bay, some party or parties visited the Two Friends, cut away one of the spars, and carried off a portion of the wire rigging belonging to the vessel. The wreck had been purchased from the insurance companies by Wolf and Davidson of Milwaukee and a Mr. Wolf of Milwaukee went to North Bay with his family to look after the vessel? Wolf and Davidson was the largest shipyard in Milwaukee at the time and it occupied eleven acres at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Kinnikinnic Rivers. The Kirtland, Wolf and Davidson Wrecking Company was affiliated with Wolf and Davidson and owned the Leviathan.* It was the most successful wrecking tug on the Lakes under the management and command of Capt. Charles E. Kirtland.14

*The tug Leviathan, Official No. 14612, was built in May 1857 at Buffalo, New York, by B. B. Jones. Vital statistics 232 gross, 129 net tons, length 126.0, beam 25.8, depth 9.0 ft. (Custom House November 6, 1868). 315-64/95 tons old measure, 125-2/12 x 26-l/12 x 106/12 (Custom House April 11,1962). On November 12,189l the Leviathan burned at Cheboygan, Michigan, and was a total loss.

On May 3, 1881, the Leviathan left Milwaukee for the purpose of getting the schooner Nabob and the Two Friends off the beach, the former at Cana Island a few miles south of North Bay. The Nabob** had gone ashore at Cana Island early in the morning on September 25, 1880, before the great storm. The vessel had broken her back and was abandoned to the insurance company. The underwriters had contracted with Kirtland, Wolf and Davidson to release the Nabob. The Leviathan went to work on the Two Friends at North Bay after returning from Cheboygan, Michigan, with a large derrick and other appliances for raising the sunken craft. The Leviathan succeeded in pulling the Two Friends off the beach but did not tow her to Milwaukee immediately. Instead, the Leviathan went to Cana Island to work on the rescue of the Nabob. The Leviathan released the Nabob on Tuesday evening, June 14, and she was taken to North Bay and left there while the Leviathan went to Escanaba for coal and an additional steam-pump. On Friday the Nabob* was towed to Milwaukee and placed in drydock at Wolf and Davidson.

**The schooner Nabob, Official No. 18175, was built in 1862 at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, by G. S. Rand. The vital statistics were 318 gross tons, length 137.6, beam 26.5 and depth 11.6 ft., 2 masts. (Custom House April 28, 1866). 405 tons old measure (Board of Lake Underwriters Marine Register, 1866, p. 62).

The Leviathan returned to North Bay in July and towed the Two Friends to Milwaukee. The wreck was placed in drydock and it was found on examination that she required an entire new bottom, new keel, new keelsons, new deadwood aft, new jibboom, spars, rudder, rudderposts, and entire new outfit of canvas. The Two Friends was about the worst wreck ever brought to Milwaukee and the repairs and outfit cost about $10,000. She thoroughly rebuilt in a short period of time, came out of drydock in August 1881, and was rechristened the Pewaukee 15

The Pewaukee came on the Milwaukee Custom House register, October 7, 1881, as a schooner, Official No. 150233, owned by W. H. Wolf and Thomas Davidson, Milwaukee. Her vital statistics were 310.26 gross tons, 294.75 net tons, 135.4 x 25.7 x 11.0 feet, and 3 masts. She was placed in the iron ore trade between Escanaba and Lake Erie ports and was valued at $15,000.16 In 1888, she received an engine and boiler and is listed in the Milwaukee Custom House register of July 23, 1888, as a propeller with one deck and three masts, of 310.26 gross tons, 228.07 net tons and dimensions of 135.5 x 26.4 x 10.8 feet, owned by

“The schooner Nabob was libeled by the United States marshal1 at Milwaukee in September 1881 for a claim of $7,800 held by the Kirtland, Wolf and Davidson Wrecking Company. Wolf and Davidson purchased the wreck of the Nabob at the U.S. Marshall’s sale for $1,015. The Nabob was rebuilt by Wolf and Davidson and renamed the Waukesha in 1882. Vital statistics 310.38 gross, 294.87 net tons, length 137.6, beam 26.5, depth 11.6 ft., 3 masts. The schooner Waukesha foundered at her anchorage off Muskegon, Michigan, November 7, 1896, in a heavy gale and became a total loss.

John Leathem and Thomas H. Smith. On May 7, 1907, she was listed as a barge of 353 tons with one deck and one mast, owned by The Leathem and Smith Towing and Wrecking Co., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The Pewaukee as a steamer and a barge was used in the stone trade from Sturgeon Bay. On November 10, 1913, she was reported exempt, having been converted into a dock in Sturgeon Bay.

Thus ended the long life, forty years- some thirty-three years after her “total loss” in North Bay-of the Two Friends. I hope that somehow the two divers who asked me “Where is the Two Friends?” finally have a proper answer.

  1. Arthur C. and Lucy F. Frederickson, Ships and Shipwrecks in Door County, Wisconsin, Volume II, (Printed by the Door County Publishing Co., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 1963), p. 61-62, 65.
  2. Dwight Boyer, Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes (Dodd, Mead and Company, New York), 1968, p. 181.
  3. Hjalmar R. Holand, History of Door County, Wisconsin, Volume I (Chicago, 1917), p. 254- 256.
  4. Arthur C. and Lucy F. Frederickson, Frederickson’s Charts of Ships Wrecked in the Vicinity of Door County, Wisconsin (Box 272, Frankfort, Michigan, 1959.)
  5. Flint Enterprises, 520 W. Third St., Flint, Michigan, 1962.
  6. John Brandt Mansfield, History of the Great Lakes, Volume I (J. H. Beers and Co.), Chicago, 1899, p. 734.
  7. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, October 21, 1880. 187
  8. United States Life-Saving Service Report, 1886, p. 55-57.
  9. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, November 4, 1880.
  10. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, October 28, 1880.
  11. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, December 30, 1880.
  12. Hjalmer R. Holand, History of Door County, Wisconsin, Volume 2 (Chicago, 1917), p. 436- 437.
  13. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, January 6 and January 20, 1881.
  14. History- of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (The Western Historical Company, A. T. Andreas, Proprietor, 1881), p. 468, 469.
  15. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, September 30, October 7 and 14, 1880; March 17, May 12, 19 and 26, June 2 and 23, July 21, August 4, 18 and 25, 1881. 16. Door County Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, October 13, 1881.

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About the Author: Dr. Walter M. Hirthe, a member of the Great Lakes Historical Society, is a Professor of Materials Science, College of Engineering, Marquette University. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he graduated from Marquette, and later attended Purdue and Northwestern universities, where he received his master’s and doctorate degrees. 

With a special interest in the maritime history of Lake Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin, in particular, Dr. Hirthe has written many technical papers. This is his first devoted to marine history and he wishes to acknowledge the help of Rev. Edward J. Dowling, S.J., University of Detroit, and Mrs. Ruth Revels, Milwaukee Public Library, for assistance in researching this manuscript. 


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