Hennepin (shipwreck)

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Hennepin Shipwreck
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Nearest city: South Haven, Michigan, USA
Built/Founded: October 1888
Architect: Wolf and Davidson
Governing body: State
Added to NRHP: February 1, 2008
NRHP Reference#: 07001489 [1]

The Hennepin is a shipwreck off the east coast of Lake Michigan, west of South Haven, Michigan. The ship was originally built in October 1888 and sank on August 18, 1927. Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates found the ship in 2006 and conducted several dives to assess the condition of the wreck.[2] The wreck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 1, 2008.[1] It is significant as the first self-unloading bulk carrier.[3]


The ship was originally built as the George H. Dyer by the firm of Wolf and Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was equipped with a steam engine at the time. The ship changed owners a few times, and in 1898,[clarification needed] it was later the Hennepin, after Louis Hennepin, an explorer of the Great Lakes.[3]

On June 27, 1901, the ship caught fire in Buffalo, New York. The fire damaged most of the upper deck and most of the machinery. The ship was sold to the Lake Shore Stone Company, who fitted it with a conveyor belt and made it a self-unloading ship. This was the world's first self-unloading ship, and it provided the paradigm for the many self-unloading vessels in use today. The ship had a 1600 ton capacity. It was put to work loading stone from a quarry in Stone Haven, Wisconsin.[2][3]

Later, in 1923, it was purchased by Construction Materials Corporation and put to use hauling construction aggregate from a quarry on the Grand River to Chicago. The hull was wearing out and becoming unstable, so the ship was converted to a barge by removing its engine. It was hauled by the tugboats Ufasco in 1926 and Lotus in 1927.[2][3]

Wreck event

On August 18, 1927, around 10:30 AM, the Hennepin ran into a squall in the middle of Lake Michigan. The vessel had sprung a leak, and although the crew worked to save the ship, the pumps could not keep up with the volume of water coming in. The crew worked until 2:30 PM that afternoon, but they were unsuccessful, and the crew abandoned ship for the safety of the tugboat Lotus. The Hennepin finally sank around 6:00 PM. Upon the return to port, Captain Ole Hansen said, "She died a hard death."[2]


Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates members were searching for the wreck of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501 in 2006. In the process of mapping out sections of the lake, they discovered debris on the bottom that appeared to be a wreck. At first, they identified a small structure that they nicknamed a "rib cage", but more searching revealed a ship. They sent a team of technical divers to explore the wreck, which was in about 200 feet (61 m) of water. The team examined a capstan and discovered the name "G.H. Dyer" stamped onto the cover, which confirmed it as the Hennepin. The pilothouse had been blown off when it sank, but the wheel was still in place and intact. The ship had hit stern-first as identified by the wreckage. The conveyor belts and the A-frame crane structure were still in place and further identified the ship as the Hennepin.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "National Register of Historic Places Listings: February 8, 2008". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-02-08. http://www.nps.gov/nr/listings/20080208.HTM. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "MSRA - The wreck of the Hennepin". Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates. http://www.michiganshipwrecks.org/hennepin.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Valerie Olson van Heest, writer and director. (2007). She Died a Hard Death: The Sinking of the Hennepin . [DVD]. Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates.