Samuel P. Ely (shipwreck)

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Samuel P. Ely Shipwreck
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
A closeup of some of the wreckage of the Ely.
Nearest city: Two Harbors, Minnesota
Coordinates: 47°0′42″N 91°40′40″W / 47.01167°N 91.67778°W / 47.01167; -91.67778Coordinates: 47°0′42″N 91°40′40″W / 47.01167°N 91.67778°W / 47.01167; -91.67778
Built/Founded: 1869
Architect: John Pearson Clark
Architectural style(s): Other
Added to NRHP: June 18, 1992
NRHP Reference#: 92000694


The Samuel P. Ely is a shipwreck in Two Harbors, Minnesota listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a schooner that sailed the Great Lakes carrying iron ore, coal, and other bulk freight. It was built in 1869 and was a fairly typical example of the 200-foot schooner built in the 1870s, though it was reinforced for the demands of carrying iron ore.[2]


The Ely first served in the Winslow fleet, often traveling from Escanaba, Michigan, to Cleveland, Ohio, and occasionally to Marquette, Michigan. In 1881, it was purchased by the Bradley Transportation Company of Cleveland. As part of the Bradley fleet, it often served the ore docks at Duluth, Minnesota, Ashland, Wisconsin, and Two Harbors, Minnesota. Later in its career, it was often towed as a barge behind a steamboat. It was often towed by the Sarah E. Sheldon or other Bradley steamers. The Ely visited Two Harbors approximately 150 times between 1884 and 1896.[3]

The wreck

In October 1896, the Ely traveled from Kelley's Island, Ohio to Duluth, Minnesota, in tow of the Hesper and carrying a load of limestone. The Hesper was also towing the Negaunee, a similar barge. The Hesper, along with the Ely and the Negaunee, reached Duluth on October 27, 1896. The two barges unloaded their limestone while the Hesper unloaded its cargo of coal. On October 29, 1896, the Hesper steamed up to Two Harbors with the Negaunee and Ely in tow. A storm had impeded their progress up to Two Harbors, with heavy headwinds and high seas, and the Hesper was barely able to make it into the port while towing the Ely. Around 8:00 in the evening, the Hesper had to cast off the towline, and although the crew of the Ely dropped the anchors, they were unable to hold the ship, and it drifted toward the breakwater. Around midnight, it was wedged against the rocks of the breakwater and could not be moved. Finally, around 3:00 in the morning, the Ely sank, although the crew was able to escape drowning by clinging to the rigging of the masts.[4]

The next morning, many residents of Two Harbors were watching the scene from the shore, but any plan to rescue the crew was complicated by the possibility of the tugboat becoming entangled on the breakwater as well. Finally, someone devised a plan whereby the tugboat Ella G. Stone would travel close to the wreck and float a small sailboat out to the wreck while tethered on about 200 feet of line. This plan was successful, although it took three trips to retrieve all ten men of the crew.[4]

Deterioration and preservation

The Ely suffered further damage after it sank. The ship's location became known to recreational scuba divers in the mid to late 1950s, and local historians and divers noted that several items were removed from the wreck between 1958 and 1961. Several small pieces of equipment were removed at first. In 1961, a large wooden anchor was removed and put on display in someone's lawn in Superior, Wisconsin. The deck capstan was removed in 1974 and brought to Lake Superior Maritime Collections in Duluth. One of the deck winches was removed in 1978 and brought to the S. S. Meteor Marine Museum in Superior, while another winch was removed to an unknown location. There were also reports that divers had removed parts of the red oak deck planking to make furniture and picture frames.[5] After the wreck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, it became illegal to remove artifacts from the wreck.[6]

File:Ely Tie Rods.jpg
Two tie rods that help hold the hull together

High seas, repair work to the breakwater structure, and other forces have caused deterioration of the wreck. In 1994, a group of concerned divers began a project to preserve the Ely, since the deck was starting to collapse into the hull. They performed a series of dives under the ice in March 1994 and lifted the deck through holes in the ice, then installed 3/4 inch steel tie rods to hold the sides of the hull together. After the sides of the hull were fastened into place, the deck was lowered back onto place onto the original ledges that supported it. The group also installed simple measuring devices to monitor the movement of the hull over time. This group later evolved into the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society. In 2001, members of the group returned to do some more strengthening work, including installing thicker steel rods with turnbuckles.[6]


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. "Samuel P. Ely - Historic Description". Minnesota Historical Society. July 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  3. "Samuel P. Ely - Construction and Career". Minnesota Historical Society. July 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Samuel P. Ely - Description of the Wreck Event". Minnesota Historical Society. July 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  5. "Samuel P. Ely - Post Depositional Impacts". Minnesota Historical Society. July 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Daniel, Stephen B. (2008). Shipwrecks along Lake Superior's Northern Shore. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 70–73. ISBN 978-0-87351-618-1.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "daniel" defined multiple times with different content

External links