Great Lakes Shipbuilding in Caseville

Caseville was considered a very large lumbering town in the late 1800’s with lumber yards, industrial size evaporators called salt blocks to process brine pumped from deep wells and even an iron works. Shipbuilding in the Great Lakes was also an important industry. In 1861 Francais Crawford built a lake schooner. The “Frank Crawford was a large masted schooner that plied the waters all over the Great Lakes in the late 1800’s.

Ships and Rigs Built-in Caseville Michigan

An entry from July 29, 1861 from the Buffalo Daily Courier noted:

A NEW VESSEL. — The new vessel built at Pigeon River, Saginaw Bay, of which we made mention a few weeks since in our columns, passed up yesterday to load at the above point with lumber for parties in Cleveland. She has an elegant fit-out, fore and aft rig, neatly painted, and called the FRANK CRAWFORD. She is sailed by Captain Edward Gaffet, of Cleveland. — Detroit Tribune.

Charlie Crawford 1873

However, it seems that the vessel was noted with problems. Running aground, suffering a collision, losing a boom-jib and being sold. Her story finally culminated in 1882 on Lake Superior with this entry.

“The schooner FRANK CRAWFORD, of Chicago, ashore at Portage Bay, has been abandoned to the underwriters. She measured 213 tons, was built at Pigeon River, by R. Calkins, in 1861, rated A 2, and was valued at $9,000. William Shaw & Brother, of Chicago, were the owners. – J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, No. 2, November 1882.”

Charlie Crawford on Black River

Caseville ship builders took advantage of the oak trees that dominated the area. They were pronounced to be among the best for ship building. Other industrial shipping was produced including the “Perseverance” a large lumber barge holding up to 5000 linear feet of finished lumber. The barge was towed by tug but eventually wreaked in a storm near Port Huron.

Scow Charlie Crawford

Later in 1872, the “Charlie Crawford” a three-masted shallow draft scow freighter used to carry raw iron ore from the Upper Peninsula to Caseville’s Iron Works. The ironworks were run about a year, and then due to the Long Depression (1873-1879), depressed iron prices and high fuel prices the operation ceased. The furnace stood vacant and idle for years. The red brick kiln was torn down and each brick was cleaned for reuse. Today some of these bricks can be seen in several buildings in Caseville. The Blue Water Inn is one of the most notable businesses where the original chimney bricks were used.

The Charlie Crawford also seemed to suffer its share of events. The Indianapolis News reported in November of 1879 that:

“The schooner ashore at Port aux Barques is supposed to be the Charlie Crawford, with her mizzen gone. She left Caseville on Saturday night.”

The Port Huron Daily Times reported in October 1893:

“The schooner CHARLIE CRAWFORD, ashore on the north side of Bois Blanc Island, will be salvaged.”

There are no other mentions of the large schooner after 1893. Great Lakes Shipbuilding in Caseville looks to have ceased as the lumber era faded into memory.


Related Shipbuilding Links

Sources for Great Lakes Shipbuilding

  • Featured image “Schooner” Wikipedia Commons
  • Images of the Charlie Crawford from the Dowling Collection
  • Oil painting “Off the Coast (Lake Superior)” 1886 Alexis Jean Fourier Minneapolis Institute of Art. Personal photo 

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