Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks - Explore Shipwrecks - Pretoria
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The schooner-barge Pretoria was one of the most colossal wooden vessels to sail the Great Lakes. It was 338 feet long - longer than a football field. It had a 44-foot beam and a depth of 23 feet. It reportedly had 11 hatches in its deck for loading cargo into the hold - each hatch was 7 feet by 26 feet. With a gross tonnage of 2,791 tons and a net tonnage of 2,715 tons, it could carry as much freight as 50 railroad cars.

The Pretoria was built at the turn of the century in West Bay City, Michigan, by James Davidson, a ship-building marvel in his day. Davidson was well-known for building high-quality wooden vessels that could carry heavy cargoes. He also was regarded as one of the final holdouts in the wooden shipbuilding industry.

The Saginaw (Michigan) Courier-Herald described the Pretoria's July 26, 1900, launching:

The schooner Pretoria, the largest wooden boat ever built, was launched at Davidson's shipyard this afternoon, in the presence of a vast multitude.

The Pretoria will carry 5,000 tons of iron ore, 175,000 bushels of wheat, or 300,000 bushels of oats. ... [S]he is very strong and substantially constructed in every way, has steel keelson plates, steel chords , steel arches , and is also diagonally strapped with steel. The vessel is supplied with three masts , each having a topmast , and these are all equipped with sails.

The Pretoria when launched was ready for sea, and even her sails were bent and running gear all rove off when she went into the water. A large pony boiler is supplied, which is situated stockless anchors . The is built on the main deck , the same as a steamer , and this is entirely in hardwood, cabinet finish. The pilothouse is located aft , and the vessel is steered by the latest improved hydraulic steerer. A large deck hoist and combination pump is situated amidships for use of moving at the dock or hoisting sails or cargo, as well as for pumping the ship. Another large steam pump and steam syphons are situated forward. The Pretoria has a rating of A1 star in the Inland Lloyds Insurance Register, and also has the highest class in all the insurance registers of New York City and London.

The Pretoria was enrolled at Port Huron, Michigan, on July 27, 1900, and served the Davidson Steamship Company without incident for five years.

continued Read the tale of the Pretoria's final voyage


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