Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks - Explore Shipwrecks - Appomattox
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At 319 feet, the Appomattox was the largest wooden bulk steamer ever constructed on the Great Lakes, possibly in the world. It was the innovative use of steel cross bracing , keelson plates , and arches that made such a massive oak hull possible. These features, her triple-expansion steam engine, and other first-class marine equipment made the Appomattox a thoroughly modern vessel when she was built in 1896. They also vividly illustrate the momentous transition between using wood and using steel to build large boats.

The Appomattox on a calm day
(Photo: Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University.)

The Appomattox was one of a series of remarkable vessels built by Captain James Davidson of West Bay City, Mich. For seven decades, Davidson worked on the lakes as a ship captain, maritime entrepreneur, and innovative shipbuilder.

The Appomattox’s career was relatively short for a Davidson vessel. She was operated by the Davidson Steamship Company from August 1896 through September 1899. Davidson initially enrolled her in Port Huron, Mich. In the late 1890s, the Davidson Steamship Company reorganized as a Minnesota corporation, and in the spring of 1899, the Appomattox’s port of enrollment shifted to Duluth, Minn. Her captain, at least for part of this time, was G.A. Tomlinson, James Davidson’s son-in-law. Tomlinson was also a vice president of the Davidson Steamship Company, and he was fast becoming a major force in the Great Lakes Shipping Industry.

Late in the 1899 season, the Boston Coal Dock and Wharf Company purchased the Appomattox. The firm was based in New Jersey but operated out of Duluth. Managed by Pickands, Mather & Company, the Appomattox continued to haul Lake Superior iron ore on her eastward voyages, bringing coal when she returned westward.




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