SS Appomattox

The SS Appomattox was a wooden-hulled, American Great Lakes freighter that ran aground on Lake Michigan, off Atwater Beach off the coast of Shorewood, Wisconsin in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, United States in 1905. On the day of January 20, 2005 the remnants of the Appomattox were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1][2]

The Appomattox in the St. Marys River
 United States
Name: Appomattox
  • Davidson Steamship Company 1896-1899
  • Boston Coal Dock & Wharf Company 1899-1905
Port of registry:  United States, Duluth, Minnesota
Builder: James Davidson
Yard number: 77
In service: 1896
Out of service: November 2, 1905
Identification: U.S. Registry #116682
Fate: Ran aground on a reef on Lake Michigan
General characteristics
Class and type: Bulk Freighter
  • 330 feet (100 m) LOA
  • 319.80 feet (97.48 m) LBP
Beam: 42 feet (13 m)
Height: 23 feet (7.0 m)
Installed power: 2 × Scotch marine boilers
Propulsion: 1.100 horsepower triple expansion steam engine
Appomattox (shipwreck)
Location150 yards off Atwater Beach in the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin
Coordinates43°5′37.09″N 87°51′58.35″W
Area2.9 acres (1.2 ha)
Built byJames Davidson
NRHP reference #04001547[1]
Added to NRHPJanuary 20, 2005


The Appomattox (Official number 116682)[3] was built in 1896 in West Bay City, Michigan by the shipyard owned by master shipbuilder and successful maritime entrepreneur James Davidson who was known for his innovative wooden hulled ships.[upper-alpha 1] She was the largest steam powered bulk carrier ever to sail on the Great Lakes.[5] She was built for the Davidson Steamship Company which was also owned by Captain Davidson; she was also one of the last ships he built.[6][3] At an overall length of 330 feet (100 m)[3] the Appomattox was one of the largest wooden ships ever built. Her hull was 319.80 feet (97.48 m) between her perpendiculars.[7] Her beam was 42 feet (13 m)[3] wide, and her hull was 23 feet (7.0 m) deep.[3][8] She had a gross register tonnage of 2643 tons[9], and a net register tonnage of 2082 tons.[10] She was equipped with a 1.100 horsepower triple expansion steam engine which was built by the Frontier Iron Works Company of Detroit, Michigan. Her engine was fueled by two Scotch marine boilers that were built by the Wickes Brothers of Saginaw, Michigan. They measured 12.3 feet (3.7 m) by 12.160 feet (3.706 m)[11][9]

Because of her immense length, the Appomattox used metallic cross bracing, a metallic keelson, metallic plates, and multiple metallic arches.[12] Several siphons and steam-driven pumps were required to keep the Appomattox afloat.[13]

The Appomattox operated mainly on the Great Lakes, carrying iron ore on her eastward voyages, and then returning westward with coal. The ship usually towed the steamer barge Santiago, which had a length of 324 feet (98.8 m), to increase the amount of cargo carried each trip.[12] The Appomattox alone could carry more than 3,000 tons of bulk cargo, and she and the Santiago had a combined capacity approaching 8,000 tons.[12]

On the day of August 3, 1900 the Appomattox was towing the schooner-barge Santiago in the St. Clair River. Meanwhile, the schooner Fontana was under tow of the steamer Kaliyuga.[14] Then as the four ships approached each other, the Santiago veered off course and smashed into the Fontana. The Fontana sank almost immediately. Sadly one of the Fontana's crew died.[12]

Final voyage

On the day of November 2, 1905 the coal-laden Appomattox was bound southward with the Santiago which was also full of coal. They were sailing on the west shore of Lake Michigan.[15] Eventually the pair came upon a thick bank of fog which severely impaired their visibility. Eventually the two vessels came too close to the shoreline and ran aground. Another vessel named Iowa was nearby, and she also ran aground.[15] Some wrecking tugs, a Revenue Service cutter and the crew of the U.S. Lifesaving Service Station were able to free the Santiago and the Iowa in no time at all. Unfortunately the Appomattox went aground so hard that she sustained severe bottom damage; no matter how hard the crews worked, they weren't able to refloat her.[15]

Eventually the weather got worse and worse, and the waves continued to pound the hulk of the Appomattox. The crew of the wrecking tugs and the U.S. Lifesaving Service continued in their effort to salvage her.[15] But the bottom of the Appomattox had cracked in several places, and even though multiple pumps were used, they could not keep the water from entering her hull. The wrecking crews abandoned her on November 15, 1905. In 1907 the Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia, Ontario removed all of her machinery.[15]

The Appomattox today

The remains of the Appomattox lie in 15 feet (4.6 m) to 20 feet (6.1 m) of water about 150 yards off Atwater Beach.[16] The remains consist of the Appomattox's intact lower bilge which measures 250 feet (76 m), her port side which measures 260 feet (79 m) in length, her starboard side, remains of her engine beds are also located in her wreck. Also located near her wreck is a four-bladed propeller which is believed to be that of the Appomattox. The wreck is popular with divers because she is close to shore, and in shallow water.[16]



  1. James Davidson was a well-known builder of wooden ships. While most companies started to build ships with steel hulls, Davidson kept building wooden ships and pushed the boundaries of wooden boat technology. Because of this he eventually manufactured some of the largest wooden ships in the world like: the Appomattox, the Frank O'Connor and the Pretoria[4]


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. Keith Meverden; John O. Jensen (August 16, 2004). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: "Appomattox" Shipwreck". National Park Service. Retrieved March 12, 2018. With photo from c.1900 and photo of wreck in 2003.
  3. "Appomattox". Great Lakes Vessel Histories of Sterling Berry. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  4. "Davidson Shipbuilding". Wisconsin Shipwrecks. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  5. "Appomattox Shipwreck". Wisconsin Historical Society. January 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  6. "Appomattox Shipwreck Listed in National Register of Historic Places". Wisconsin Historical Society. 2015-12-03. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  7. "Appomattox (1896)". Wisconsin Shipwrecks. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  8. The "Door County Advocate" published an article on August 8, 1896 on page 5 in which it listed the beam as 43 feet, or about 13.1 meters.
  9. "Appomattox (1896, Bulk Carrier)". Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  10. "Appomattox". Bowling Green State University. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  11. "SS Appomattox (+1905)". Wrecksite. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  12. "Service History". Wisconsin Shipwrecks. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  13. Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks: Appomattox Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine University of Wisconsin–Madison Sea Grant Institute and Wisconsin Historical Society, 2003
  14. "Fontana". Scuba Diving. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  15. "Final Voyage". Wisconsin Shipwrecks. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  16. "Today". Wisconsin Shipwrecks. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
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