Door County is Wisconsin’s easternmost county, located on a peninsula. Named after the strait between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island. The passage through this strait is known as the “Gate of Death” and is aptly named.
Narrow channels, hidden sandbars, and unpredictable high winds emanating from the Great Lakes made this route potentially dangerous for 19th-century sailors. In fact, there are over 240 of her shipwrecks in the waters around the peninsula. Here are 14 of the most amazing shipwrecks in Door County, Wisconsin.
This ship set sail for her first time on September 17, 1884. Her 85-foot-long Australasia held the title of Largest Wooden Ship of All Time at the time of her completion. Australasia During her 12-year career, she transported vast quantities of goods across the Great Lakes with phenomenal efficiency for a wooden ship. However, on 17 October 1896, the Australasia caught fire below decks.
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The crew briefly fought the fire before abandoning ship. A tug then towed Australasia to the south coast of Cave Point, where Australasia sank. Now lying 15 feet away from Whitefish Dunes State Park, this wreck is one of the most popular shipwrecks in Door County, Wisconsin.
2. Christina Nilsson
This her $23,000 three-masted schooner is named after a famous Swedish songstress. The shipyard was built at the Hanson & Scobb Shipyard in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and from 1871 she was responsible for nearly 39 percent of all sailing ships built at Manitowoc between 1885.
From her first voyage in August 1871 until her sinking in 1884, Nilsson had a fairly successful career as a freight contractor, transporting bulk commodities of grain and iron. On 25 October 1884, Nilsson was hit by a storm and a blinding snowstorm, and she ran aground in Baileys Harbour. This building now stands in front of the old Baileys Her Harbor Her Light in 15 feet of water.
3. City of Glasgow
Glasgow City was founded in 1891 as he was one of the largest wooden freighters on the Great Lakes. The ship was mainly used to transport bulk cargo such as coal, and underwent several modifications before becoming a stone barge named Glasgow. At the time, the Door County Quarry relied heavily on Glasgow to transport limestone across the lake.
Later, in October 1917, both Glasgow and Adria were towed away when a strong storm hit the area. The towline was cut and the next day the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard found the ‘Glasgow’ stranded on the shore. She made multiple attempts to free her ship that day and over the next few weeks, but her ship did not budge. Glasgow was officially abandoned in 1922 and her wreck lies on the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal about 100 meters off the coast at Lily Bay, three miles north.
On the night of September 26, 1888, her three-masted schooner was loaded with a cargo of timber bound for Chicago. During his voyage to Death’s Door, Captain Andrew McGraw entered Garrett Bay, mistaking one of the cliffs for a famous landmark. Unfortunately, the Fleetwing hit a rocky shore and a storm ripped the hull in half before it could be salvaged. Fleetwing is now 15 feet deep near the boat launch in Garrett Bay.
5. Grape Shot
The schooner ran aground near Plum Island during a storm in November 1867. She got stuck in a rock and the bow was four feet high. A Chicago-based tug, the Leviathan, has been dispatched to rescue Grape her shot.
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But after several attempts, Grapeshot had to stop. 50,000 board feet of wood and salt were unloaded and taken to Chicago, where the ship’s rigging was stripped. The Grapeshot Wreck, which lies eight feet deep near Plum Island, is well-preserved and an important archaeological research site.
The Louisiana, built in 1887, served her 26 years successfully until her tragic end. In November 1913, Louisiana passed through Death’s Door when a severe snowstorm, now known as the “White Hurricane of 1913,” hit the crew.
The wind washed the ship onto the shores of Washington Harbor and set the cargo holds ablaze. The crew had to abandon ship, and Louisiana sat on rocks and was wrecked. Now she lies in 18 feet of water in Washington Harbor.
The remains of “Forest”, “A.P. Nichols” and “J.E. Gilmore” are all in the same location. These shipwrecks make up the ruins of Northwest Pilot Island and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Forrest was the first of her three ships to run aground near Pilot Island on 28 October 1891.
A year later, around the same time, A.P. Nichols picked up the riff right out of Forrest. Then, on 17 October 1892, J.E. Gilmore was wrecked on a ledge along with two other ships. All three of these hers have now been found in 35 feet of water off Pilot Island, a common shipwreck site in Door County, Wisconsin.
8. A.P Nichols
AP Nichols was built as a general trading schooner along the Great Lakes and between 1887 and her final voyage in 1892 she was involved in three crashes. That October day, A.P. Nichols encountered a storm and headed to Plum Island in search of shelter.
However, A.P. Nichols drifted towards Pilot Island and landed on a reef just off the bow of Forrest, where she had been trapped there the previous year. Before she could recover, a March 1893 storm hit her A.P. Nichols parted ways and made her final home off the coast of Pilot Island.
9. J.E. Gilmore
This wooden two-masted schooner also fell victim to the coral reef around Pilot Island. In October 1892, J.E. Gilmore chased her through her death door in an attempt to escape her bad weather. Unfortunately, she collided with the reef southwest of Pilot Island and was thrown onto a ledge very close to Forrest. See Gilmore in 10 meters of water on J.E. Pilot Island.
En route to Kenosha, Wisconsin, her three-masted schooner was carrying a cargo of Tamarack bark when a gale struck Emmeline. The ship capsized, but the crew escaped safely. Several attempts were made to rescue Emmeline, but she eventually sank off the pier of Ankrum. Her Emmeline remains are now found in 21 feet of water off Baileys Harbor.
11. Perry Hannah
In October 1880, while Perry and her Hannah were loading hemlock ties at Jackson Port, she was caught in a severe storm and wrecked at Reynolds Pier, causing $2,500 in damage. Now in the eight feet of water between the piers she can see the wreckage of a two-masted schooner. The ruins of Perry Hannah, Cecilia, and Reynolds Pier make up the Reynolds Pier Historic Site off Jacksonport Beach. This is another popular shipwreck location in Door County, Wisconsin.
Also part of the Reynolds Pier Historic Site off Jacksonport Beach, Cecilia can be seen in about 7 feet of water on the pier. Loading on September 9, 1885, the Cecilia was wrecked at the same location as the Perry Hannah five years earlier.
13. Frank O’Connor
In Frank O’Connor’s 26th year of service, the ship left Buffalo, New York with 3,000 tons of coal. Suddenly, a fire broke out on the bow off the east coast of Door County. Fortunately the entire crew was evacuated, but Frank O’Connor was seen burning late into the night. On 21 October 1919, the steamer burned to the waterline and sank. Today, Frank O’Connor can be seen in 65 feet of water just two miles off Kana Island.
When first built, Lakeland was known as Cumbria. The ship was built as a steel-hulled freighter and cost her US$160,000. This ship made her first voyage on 1 February 1887. She was primarily used to transport thousands of tons of ore between Escanaba and other Ohio ports and was later converted as a car carrier.
Lakeland, where she was loaded with 40 Nash and Kissel wagons as cargo, before entering the canal she caused a leak on 3 December 1924. Despite the crew’s efforts, they abandoned the 2,425-ton iron steamer and sank six miles east of Sturgeon Bay.
The ship was submerged in 205 feet of water and broke into several pieces, but is remarkably well preserved, as are the vehicles in the hold. Of all these wrecks, the Lakeland wreck, where the vehicle is preserved, is the most interesting wreck in Door County, Wisconsin.