One of the most unusual stories about the ghost town of Port Crescent was the result of a shipwreck just off-shore. A steamer barge went aground, and it resulted in tons of debris floating around the Upper Thumb. The beach was littered with debris from Saginaw Bay into Lake Huron past Huron City and Port Hope. The wreck had one good outcome. It served to keep many in the Thumb with the ability to make bread all through the winter of 1887-1888. It’s a neat little story about one of the more obscure Michigan shipwreck events.
The Wreck of the Steamer Barge Osceola
Osceola’s propellor steam barge was on her down trip from Duluth and carried a full cargo, principally Minneapolis milled flour headed for Buffalo. The ship struck on a reef after encountering heavy fog at 2 am on November 7, 1887. There are at least three reported accounts by the various newspapers in 1887 of the ship went aground. The most agreed is that the ship went aground at three miles out from Hat Point, familiarly known as Loosemore’s Point, on the Flat Rock Reef. This reef is three miles north by northwest from the lumber town of Port Crescent and about 3 miles west of Port Austin.
The crew began to throw off flour barrels and endeavored to back off the stranded vessel. The cargo was over 700 tons of flour, mostly put up in 280 lb. paper linen-lined sacks for the European trade. About 300 tons were thrown overboard. However, the wind was blowing heavily from the southwest, and as the load lightened her up, she drifted further on to the reef.
A clerk left the ship by yawl and sailed into Port Austin. There he telegraphed for tugs and sent for the life-saving crew.
The Life Saving crew arrived and proceeded to help the crew salvage the ship. After all day of working the pumps, it was thought best to leave the ship with the approaching night. Captain Gill and the life-saving crew scuttled the ship to let it rest on the reef. The Grindstone City life-saving crew rescued the men and took them to Port Austin. Monday evening, the captain and crew of 35 men were safely ashore.
The flour barrels are thrown overboard (to lighten the load and raise her), and nearly the entire amount floated around Pointe Aux Barques past Grindstone City and came ashore from Huron City to Port Hope. At night folks from nearby farms that heard of the wreck came to the shore with teams to pick up the barrels found on the shore. Those who had worked hard all day retrieving the flour barrels from the lake, expecting big sums for their salvage effort, discovered that their barrels were gone.
On Wednesday morning, the life-saving crew again went out to the wrecked vessel and the Sumner, an Alpena tug, made an effort to get to her, but owing to the heavy seas, was unable to do so.
Grindstone Life Saving Station Assists to Save The Osceola
The Life Saving Station keeper and his men made numerous trips to the vessel during the ensuing six weeks. They took the captain, the agents of the insurance companies, and others interested out to the wreck numerous times. The men kept watch at nearby Port Austin during the night of November 16th, as the pumping crew had remained on board despite the threatening weather.
One local paper reported after the wreck, “The insurance agent is now in Port Austin, and, likely, a great many who got a year’s supply that night will see it departing again. Last Monday, an insurance agent (with supposed authority) started selling the remaining flour, which was 7 tons left on board at $2 to $2.50 a barrel.”
The local newspaper kept reporting on the story. Especially those from the “big city.” “Since then, another agent has appeared objecting to the sales of the first agent because it was being sold too cheap.” A week after the wreck came another report: “The Osceola still lingers on the Port Crescent reef, but a large supply of our town has laid in a winter supply of the “ staff of life. So let the cold winds blow!”
Finally there came another local report. “Rowboats, sailboats, scows, rafts, etc., were at a premium the last week in which to visit the wreck and lug off a bag of flour.”
The Life Station crew helped subsequently to set up and take down the steam pumps and at various times in futile attempts to float the steamer. The pumps being able to accomplish nothing. The work was given up on the 19th of December, and the Osceola was soon abandoned. A wreck diver reported to the local newspapers that the hull “was badly broken up.” The total loss will be declared $60,000. $40,000 for the ship and $20,000 for the 700 tons of flour from the mills of Minneapolis with insurance at $3 a barrel.
At the town of Port Crescent, the wreck was within view. N. B. Haskell and others in town continued to watch the wreck reported in December: “For the information of those interested in the Osceola, she moves not” as he has a line on her, that is a “ landmark line.”
Salvage Operations of the Mary Pringle
The Osceola was declared a total loss and remained on the reef until the following August. The steam barge Mary Pringle with its two lighter masts and their crews, managed to salvage the Osceola and float her off the reef. Surprisingly, despite being abandoned in the lake for almost a year, the steamer was reported to be in good condition.”
Despite being declared a total loss, it was recovered and rebuilt at great cost. The ship was sold to a Canadian firm in 1905, and the name changed to Golspie. Thus another chapter for a Michigan Shipwreck comes to a close.
- Alpena County, George N. Fletcher Public Library
- Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service By United States. Life-Saving Service
- Maritime History of the Great Lakes
- Memories of Harbor Beach Volume Two
- It Happened Here One Spring A Centennial History of Port Crescent