September 26, 2023
Caseville's Shipyards

Great Lakes Shipbuilding in Caseville

Caseville was considered a very large lumbering town in the late 1800s with lumber yards, industrial size evaporators called salt blocks to process brine pumped from deep wells, and even ironworks. 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 1800s.

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.


Great Lakes Shipbuilding Companies Today

There are four major shipbuilding yards located within the waters of the Great Lakes region. They produce vessels for all over the world including military and transport shipping. Two of the yards have drydock facilities to handle ships of 1,000 feet.

Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding – Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Platform Supply Vessel

Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding is a full-service shipyard specialized in commercial vessel new construction, repair, conversion, and maintenance. Articulated Tug Barge units, Barges, Dredges, Ferries, Platform Support Vessels, and Specialty Vessels such as Self-Unloading Carriers are all part of the FBS offers. The 63-acre shipyard of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding is equipped with climate-controlled manufacturing facilities, computer-aided manufacturing equipment, a US Navy-certified Floating Drydock, a large Graving Dock, ample Waterfront space, and lifting capacity.

Great Lakes Shipyard – Cleveland Ohio

Great Lakes Shipyard

Great Lakes Shipyard is a full-service shipyard in a state-of-the-art facility that includes a 770-ton mobile Travelift for new vessel and barge building, fabrication, maintenance, and repairs. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, the newly constructed shipyard complex is located in the Old River Channel. The Shipyard specializes in commercial and government vessel building, fabrication, conversion, refit, and repair, as well as on-site and off-site topside work for tugs, supply boats, ferries, barges, “truckable” barges, excursion vessels, dinner boats, research vessels, and big yachts.

Fraser Shipyards Inc. – Superior Wisconsin

FSY HerbertCJackson RMW 012816 2463
Courtesy Fraser Shipyards

Fraser Shipyards offers a wide range of services and capabilities to maintain Great Lakes freighters, cement ships, tugboats, barges, and other commercial ships. Our 60-acre site can accommodate the biggest ships, with heavy-duty equipment, two dry docks, and lay-up and fit-out berths.

Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair – Erie Pennselvania

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Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair – Courtesy OSHA

The over 200,000 sq. ft. shipyard facility, which is located on the Lake Erie shore, has a 92-foot main floor ceiling height and a 125-foot high ceiling over a portion of the massive graving dock, which is one of only two on the Great Lakes capable of accommodating 1,000-foot self-unloading vessels for construction, repair, conversion, repowering, and maintenance. For over fifty years the company has provided marine salvage, dredging, marine transportation, recycling, demolition, heavy-lift, and other related services.

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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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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