The schooner-barge Pretoria
, the largest wooden ship ever built on the Great lakes, lies in about 54 feet of water off of Outer Island, Lake Superior, in Ashland County. Launched in July 1900, the Pretoria
is one of the last wooden bulk carriers built on the lakes and represents that type of ship construction at its height. The Pretoria
embodies some of the most sophisticated American wooden shipbuilding technology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Built, owned and operated by the well known James Davidson of West Bay City, Michigan, the Pretoria
was used to carry a variety of cargoes. Her official registry number was 150872. At 338 feet long, the Pretoria
was the largest wooden vessel afloat, but she was a runt when compared to the 500 foot long steel lakers. She was designed to carry 5,000 tons of iron ore, 175,000 bushels of wheat, or 300,000 bushels of oats. The vessel was valued at the time of her loss at $60,000 and the cargo at $33,000.
On September 1, 1905, after loading iron ore at Superior, Wisconsin, and in tow of the Steamer Venezuela
a storm hit and the schooner-barge's hydralic steering gear failed and then the tow line connecting the two vessels parted. The Venezuela
returned to Ashland and reported that the the Pretoria
was missing. The Pretoria
was left to drift towards the Apostle Islands, slowly being torn apart by the waves crashing against her flat sides. She dropped anchor, but they didn't catch until within a a mile and a half of Outer Island, the heavy seas were no match. The battered ship continued to disintegrate at anchor, with water coming in through the hatch combings and forcing some of the hatches off. Captain Smart and the nine crewmen abandoned ship, but the yawl turned over in the surf of Outer Island and five members of the crew died.
, meanwhile, foundered and settled on the bottom in fifty-four feet of water, her long masts protruding above the surface. The surviving crew members were taken to the Outer Island lighthouse.
Certificate of Enrollment: Surrendered: January 12, 1906: "Loss due to Foundering".
Although the wreck has been salvaged and the hull broken apart, its three major pieces, consisting of the bilge, port and starboard sides retain excellent integrity. The vessel's anchor windless also remain on site. Additional debris associated with the Pretoria
can be encountered for several miles around the main wreckage. The main portion of the Pretoria
is found on a hard bottom of sandstone bedrock at a maximum depth of 54 feet of water.
As a side note, the large donkey boiler from the Pretoria
had been salvaged in 1961 and had set in a woods for forty years was returned to the wreck site in June 2001.
On June 8, 2001 The Wisconsin State Historical Society, The Great Lakes Shipwreck Foundation and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society returned the boiler from the Pretoria
to the shipwreck site. The boiler had been salvaged in 1961 and was laying on shore. It is about four feet in diameter and six feet tall and Ed Erickson, the salver, had the brass manufacturer's plate at his house.
A dive guide for this vessel is available for purchase.