Ida Corning (1881)
Gallery
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Ida Corning during winter 2002
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Ida Corning's centerboard trunk
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Ida Corning's centerboard trunk
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Iron hogging strap use to strengthen the vessel
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One of two mast steps
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Aerial view of the three Bullhead Point shipwrecks
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The Ida Corning in Buffalo, NY
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Ida Corning loading lumber
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Ida Corning under tow
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A Maritime Trails historic marker is on site
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Ida Corning archaeological site plan
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Overall site map of the Bullhead Point shipwrecks
By The Numbers
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Service History


As sailing vessels became obsolete at the turn of the 20th century, hulls that could be converted to barges were plentiful and cheap. This was already the case when the Ida Corning (U. S. Registry 44283) was constructed as a purpose-built schooner-barge by Thomas Arnold in East Saginaw, Mich., in 1881. Two masts, a fore and a mizzen, gave this 168 by 31 by 11-foot vessel the configuration of a Grand Haven rig. Photographs reveal that the vessel carried an after cabin on the main deck and had a forecastle deck forward, which housed the winch and perhaps a steam boiler and donkey engine . The deck cabin and small forecastle deck insured that internal hull space was not wasted on crew quarters or machinery, for more cargo equated to more profit. The cavernous hull could be entirely filled with cargo. The Ida Corning's history clearly reflects turn-of-the-century economics on the Great Lakes. The vessel was never intended to free sail the lakes, but was built to be towed in "consort" with other barges. She supplemented the cargo capacity of her escort and provided added flexibility because she could be dropped at any port for unloading while the escort continued to a different destination. The Ida Corning changed ownership several times during her early career but continued in the lumber trade until after the turn of the century. By this time, however, the lumber industry was approaching hard times. Seventy years of laissez-faire government and commercial management had severely depleted the once seemingly limitless resource, forcing many lumber companies to divest while others moved west. Consequently, in 1908, the Ida Corning was sold to the Sturgeon Bay Stone Company and added to its flotilla of barges. As a barge, the Ida Corning was often found in tow of the steamer I.N. Foster, delivering stone to various locations on the lakes. The vessel faced the usual problems associated with hauling stone. Bad weather and small leaks were a constant worry for her small crew, and winter dry dock and caulking were routine. Although grounding or collisions with other vessels were unusual, the Ida Corning ran aground at least once, in November of 1908. In a dense fog seven miles south of the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, the barge and her escort tug, Duncan City, struck a shoal in an area known as Clay Banks. Apparently, Captain Fred Johnson of the Duncan City failed to take into account the increased speed of the tow because the schooner barge was both empty and under full sail. As the vessels were being pulled from the banks by the tug Smith under a Captain Anderson, the Ida Corning struck a rock and broke off its shoe and rudder, necessitating a considerable repair.
Final Voyage


By 1928 the Ida Corning, Oak Leaf, and Empire State were abandoned at the Sturgeon Bay Stone Company's Bullhead Point wharf. The 1929 stock market crash and subsequent depression ensured that the vessels would never again carry a load of stone. Their collective value was placed at $7,000 before final abandonment. It is unclear exactly when the Ida Corning and Oak Leaf were taken out of service, though the Oak Leaf's near-shore position suggests she was laid up first. The Door County Advocate, a local newspaper that kept close tabs on the vessels during their working lives, last referred to the two as functioning stone barges in 1920. The Empire State, located at the head of the point, was reportedly used to extend the company's dock into deeper water in 1916. For many years, the three hulks were popular recreational venues for many Sturgeon Bay residents. However, the Sturgeon Bay Stone Company burned all three vessels to the waterline in 1931 to prevent potential litigation by an injured swimmer or fisherman.
Today


Rising just above the water's surface at Bullhead Point in Sturgeon Bay are three tangible reminders of the city's once-flourishing limestone industry. The three vessels are lying in 0-10 feet of water, offering an excellent opportunity for divers, snorkelers, and kayakers to visit these interesting wrecks. The remains of all three vessels can be seen from the shore. Visibility at the site ranges from 10-25 feet, and water temperature varies from about 45 to 60°F in the summer. The Bullhead Point site consists of four features: the shipwrecks Empire State, Ida Corning, and , and the point itself. Located on the west side of Surgeon Bay, Bullhead Point proper is a large rock outcropping piled on an older rock crib pier structure, approximately 380 feet in length by 200 feet at its greatest width. One dramatic piece of archaeological evidence confirming the identity of the Ida Corning is the presence of an iron hogging strap, an internal frame used in wooden ships to support vessels against sagging at the bow and stern . This support strap originally fastened to the bilge ceiling and arched from stem to stern inside the hold, on both the port and starboard side. The strap was reportedly removed from the vessel George Presley after that vessel sank in 1905, and later fitted in the Ida Corning when it was converted for stone hauling. Archaeological evidence suggests that internal (and external) hogging arches were usually, though not exclusively, reserved for shallow draft steam vessels with high length-to-beam ratios, such as those involved in Great Lakes bulk cargo trade. These internal trusses were advantageous for shallow draft hulls carrying heavy cargo. Nevertheless, it remains a fairly unexpected sight on sailing vessels, and it is a notable archaeological illustration of stone barge conversion. The Ida Corning possesses two mast steps and accompanying chain plates on the hull for a foremast and a mizzen . There is no indication of a main mast step or its associated chain plates. This is significant, as it indicates that the vessel was two- masted with a Grand Haven style rig, typical of purpose-built schooner-barges or barge conversions in the later part of the nineteenth century. This rig provided stability and supplemental power, but it was not suitable for vessels sailing under their own power. Although the centerboard is missing, it was originally 26 feet in length, as evidenced by the centerboard trunk, which is still intact. It is not braced from the sides of the vessel as it would be if the hold were 13 feet or deeper. The centerboard is offset to the vessel's port side and does not pass directly through the keel as does the Oak Leaf's centerboard. This is indeed unusual, as "through the keel" centerboards were the norm after 1856, and the Ida Corning was built in 1881. Internally, the Ida Corning is more heavily constructed than the former schooner Oak Leaf, located beside her, bearing testimony to the Ida Corning's original construction as a schooner-barge . The vessel's framing comprises double frame sets placed on 20-inch centers. Futtocks are butt scarfed and the keelson and single rider keelson are diagonal lock scarfed and fastened with one-inch iron drift pins. The vessel's bilge ceiling is fastened with countersunk nails while the rest of the vessel is fastened with nails over compression washers (roves). The smooth hold floor created by the countersunk nails would facilitate unloading of bulk cargoes with square-nosed shovels. As is common with bulk carriers of this time period, the four-inch ceiling planks are twice as thick as the outer hull planking. This indicates that the hold was bearing very heavy service and the cargo itself, stone in this case, wore heavily on the inner hull.
Today


Preserving the Bullhead Point Shipwrecks

Weather, ice, and the dynamic shallow environment are the chief culprits in the deterioration of the Bullhead Point shipwrecks. During times of exceptionally low water levels, more of the wrecks' structure is exposed to the elements and is more likely to be damaged by ice formation and movement. By creating a permanent record of what the vessels look like today, the archaeological documentation produced during fieldwork in 1999 is the best way to preserve the history that these vessels represent. This fieldwork and historic research, carried out by the Wisconsin Historical Society and East Carolina University's Program in Maritime Studies, was also used to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places. Equally important, WHS underwater archaeologists are using this documentation to create interpretive signage and public presentations. Part of the WHS Wisconsin's Maritime Trails program, these initiatives are aimed at fostering public awareness of Wisconsin's unique maritime history and encouraging preservation of the state's impressive collection of historic shipwrecks. Clearly visible from shore, the Bullhead Point site is an excellent locale for public interpretation of the area's historic stone industry and associated vessels. The site is equally interesting, informative, and accessible to divers, snorkelers, boaters, and pedestrians. In a metaphorical sense, the Bullhead Point historic district can be used as a time machine to help reconstruct a small part of the late nineteenth-century community of Sturgeon Bay . It conjures a time when the bay echoed to staccato blasts of dynamite and black powder, the constant ring of stone drills, and the intermittent rumbling of hundreds of tons of cargo cascading into the gigantic hollow shells of waiting stone barges. To visit the Bullhead Point City Park in Sturgeon Bay, go north on N. Duluth Ave. Go past County Road C. Bullhead Point is on the right, across from the old stone quarry.
 
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