Adriatic (1889)
Gallery
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The schooner-barge Adriatic takes on cargo
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The Adriatic as a self-unloading vessel
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A diver surveys the Adriatic as part of a field school in underwater archaeology
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Remains of Adriatic's self-unloading pan-conveyor mechanism
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Adriatic unloading on the cover of "Labor Saver" magazine, a periodical published by the Stephens-Adamson Manufacturing Comany
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Adriatic Site Plan
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Adriatic's damaged stern post
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An archaeologist investigates Adriatic's bow
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Aerial photo of the Adriatic site
By The Numbers
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Service History


The Adriatic was built as a three-masted, wooden schooner-barge in 1889 in West Bay City, Michigan, by master shipbuilder James Davidson as hull number 31 of 103. In 1892, Adriatic was purchased by M.A. Bradley of Cleveland, Ohio, and was towed as a consort of wooden steamers hauling cargoes of wheat, ore, and coal across the Great Lakes. After twenty years of operation in this capacity, Adriatic was purchased by the Leathem and Smith Stone Company of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to operate in the growing crushed stone trade. In 1913, Adriatic was converted into a "crane equipped stone barge" with the addition of a derrick and rails on its deck. By the end of 1913, however, the demand for crushed stone was so high that faster unloading methods were needed.

Over the winter of 1913-14, Adriatic was converted into a full self-unloading schooner-barge able to unload cargo at a rate of 250-350 yards per hour. The self-unloading machinery was designed by the Stephens-Adamson Manufacturing Company of Aurora, Illinois, and included two parallel belt conveyors beneath hoppers running the length of the vessel. Cargo would be released from the hoppers through a small, manually opened door onto the conveyors, which would bring the cargo forward to an athwartship conveyor located in the bow. The cargo would then be transferred to a pan-conveyor (bucket-elevator system) operating on a 45-degree incline. The pan-conveyor brought the cargo above the weather deck and deposited it onto another belt conveyor located on a 60-foot long unloading boom, from which the cargo was unloaded on shore. This conversion effectively made Adriatic the first self-unloading schooner-barge in the world. Adriatic operated in this capacity, towed by one of Leathem and Smith's tugs, hauling stone from Sturgeon Bay to ports across Lake Michigan, including hauling stone for the development of the Michigan highway system through the 1910's and 1920's.
Final Voyage


Adriatic continued to operate as a self-unloading schooner-barge until 1927 when newer and more efficient technology began to out-date the aging vessel. By the end of the 1927 season, Adriatic's enrollment listed the vessel as "dismantled and abandoned," and it was tied up to an abandoned coal dock near the Leathem D. Smith Dock Company yards. The abandoned vessel was used as a popular fishing spot until 1934, when the vessel caught fire and burned to the waterline, sinking to the bottom of Sturgeon Bay, where it remains today.
Today


Today, Adriatic remains in 2 to 15 feet of water only six feet from the shoreline of Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay. The site retains remarkable structural integrity despite being subject to damage from ice, waves, and modern drydocks resting on top of it during winter moorings. An estimated 10 feet of lower hull remains on the site covered in a thick layer of organic material and silt. Most of the self-unloading equipment was left on the vessel when it was abandoned and remains on the site today, preserved beneath the silt.

Evidence of the pan-conveyor can be seen on the site, as well as the vessel's donkey boiler, belt conveyor, and gears associated with the self-unloading tower. The unloading tower and boom are no longer evident on the site, both of which likely were destroyed by the 1934 fire.

In the summer of 2013, students from East Carolina University, Program in Maritime Studies worked with the Wisconsin Historical Society on an archaeological survey of the site, documenting the site in detail.
 
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© 2017 - Wisconsin Sea Grant, Wisconsin Historical Society