Built in 1872 at Gibraltar, Michigan, just south of Detroit, it was a wooden steamer designed to carry iron ore from Lake Superior’s mining towns to foundries in Detroit and nearby Wyandotte. During the 1870s and ‘80s, hundreds of similar vessels carried millions of tons of ore that fueled the Industrial Revolution and built our great nation.
At 167 feet, the Monohansett hardly compares with today’s thousand-footers, but it was among the first to have the basic principles of their design: long unobstructed decks and a series of hatches where bulk coal, salt, iron ore, or limestone could be easily poured into gaping cargo holds. “Bulk freighters” revolutionized American industry!
Even when a ship manages to navigate a ship trap in a storm, it doesn’t mean it is safe. On a late November night in 1907, the Monohansett, loaded with 900 tons of coal, took shelter near the island during one of Lake Huron’s notorious fall storms. Sitting in the safe waters, an accident with a lantern in the engine room started a fire. Within minutes, the stern of the wooden ship was engulfed in flames. Monohansett’s crew of 12 were saved by the heroic actions of members of the Thunder Bay Island Life Saving Station. Efforts continued throughout the night, but the ship’s coal cargo erupted into an inferno, and the ship eventual sank to the bottom.
The shallow depth and crystal clear water make Monohansett a popular site for diving and snorkeling. The ship’s remains include much of the lower hull, with prominent longitudinal keelsons, transverse frames, and outer planking visible underneath. Machinery parts, tail shaft, and propeller may be seen at the stern. The ship’s enormous iron boiler lies on its side near the mooring buoy with its fire doors open, distinctive steam drum atop, and a gaping hole where the smokestack stood. Other features lie scattered nearby.