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COMMERCE & CATASTROPHE

Port Huron Shipyard History

Captain Edmond Fitzgerald began building ships in Port Huron in 1866 with many partners. His boat yard was at the Municipal Office center property. He had 5 other brother's, all boat Captains with some also engaged in ship building as well. The "Edmund Fitzgerald" ship, sunk in a November gale in 1975 off White Fish Point in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was named after his brother John's grandson.

Captain Archibald Muir began building ships in Port Huron in 1867 under various partnership names. After he sold his shipyard in 1874, Captain Muir went back sailing on the lakes. It was during a fall storm on Oct 2nd 1892 that Captain Muir was piloting the Nashua when it was lost to the heavy seas. Captain Muir's body was never found.

Thomas Dunford and Thomas Alverson, of Dunford & Alverson Ship Building, begin in Port Huron in 1881. They were also able to repair many damaged ships in their newly acquired dry dock which they purchased from Muir & Livingstone shipyard. One of the vessels built at the Dunford and Alverson shipyard was the "Omar D. Conger", named after Port Huron native and U. S. Senator Omar Conger. On March 26th 1922, while building steam at the dock in the Black River, its boiler exploded killing four crew members. A 200 pound radiator was hurled over 1000 feet and came down through a skylight at the Falk Funeral Home, then located at 6th & Pine. A funeral was in progress and several attendees were injured. What vessel has the distinction of being built and destroyed within a few hundred feet of its beginning?

Another dry dock ship building and repair facility, known as the Wolverine Dry Dock, was built out of the hull of the train ferry "Wolverine" that ferried rail cars across the St. Clair River south of where the Bluewater Bridge is today. It was first in operation in 1885 at the foot of Rawlins Street and then moved to the Bean Dock area, south of the Black River. Its capacity was 1000 tons. From this yard, they also constructed self-righting lifesaving boats for the U.S. Lifesaving Service in the Great Lakes. The U.S.G.S. would later be known as the United States Coast Guard.

The Reid dry dock was at the foot of Reid Avenue in south Port Huron. Captain's Thomas Reid, and his father Captain James Reid, were the subjects of the book "The Salvager" by Mary Frances Doner. Captain Jim Reid was a pioneer in "rafting" logs from the Spanish and French Rivers in Georgian Bay Canada to the lumber mills in Port Huron and beyond after the Great Fires of 1871 and 1881 destroyed most of Michigan's remaining forests. They also salvaged and repaired hundreds of ships wrecked all over the Great Lakes. Captain Thomas Reid contributed to the war effort by salvaging wrecked vessels around the coast line of Canada during World War 1. Their methods of salvage were copied by salvers around the world and are still being used to this very day.

Jenks ship building was established in 1889 by Orin Jenks and his father William S. Jenks, President. It was located in the Black River near the paper company. They were the next evolution in ship building, iron hulls! One of the most infamous ships built by Jenks Ship Building, was the "Eastland", launched in 1903. In its first summer of operation, the Eastland's crew mutinied after the officers cut out the mid-morning meal of potatoes for the crew. They were arrested by the ship's Captain and brought to trial in federal court. Once the judge heard the cause, the case was thrown out of court, and the captain was replaced by the owners. The Eastland rolled over in the Chicago River July 24th 1915, killing 844. The ship was salvaged and purchased by the U.S. Government to serve as a gunboat, the U.S.S. Willmette, during both WWI and WWII.