Historic Manistee, The Victorian Port City
An 1818 Treaty allows the United States and Canada to each maintain one warship of limited armament on the Great Lakes. For most of a century the U.S.S. MICHIGAN served as the U.S. warship.
The MICHIGAN was built on the frontier in 1843 at Pittsburgh from wrought iron, the first iron ship in the U.S. Navy. After the initial temporary construction, the vessel was disassembled and the pieces were carted by oxen 60 miles north to Erie, Pennsylvania. There the ship was reassembled and launched on Dec. 5, 1843. It spent the majority of its career at Erie waiting for something to happen. Each summer it made a training cruise throughout the Lakes and it usually spent the fall in the upper lakes assisting vessels wrecked by fall storms.
In 1853 the United States government declared war on Manistee and other lumbering communities on Lake Michigan because they felt that too much timber was disappearing from federal lands. On August 28th of that year the MICHIGAN came in the dark of night to land a U.S. Marshal at Bar Lake so he would be in Manistee at sunrise. In similar actions the following month at least five Manistee lumbermen were arrested and delivered by the MICHIGAN to federal courts where they were tried for timber theft.
After the turn-of-the-Twentieth Century the MICHIGAN was removed from active duty and turned over
to the Naval Reserve on the Great Lakes. In that role the WOLVERINE, as the MICHIGAN had been rechristened, returned to Manistee a number of times. For several years the Michigan National Guard held their statewide annual encampments at Manistee and each year the WOLVERINE would be in the local port during the encampments.
After an engine failure in 1923 the WOLVERINE was laid up to await her fate. Many felt the vessel was a national monument and should be preserved as such. Eventually it was decided to preserve only ten feet of her bow and at the age of 106 the historic vessel was cut up for scrap after a long and glorious career.
[Photo caption reads] The WOLVERINE, formerly the U.S.S. MICHIGAN, outbound from Manistee after a National Guard encampment
For more on the history of Manistee, visit the Museum at 425 River Street.