— Wisconsin's Maritime Trails —
Type: packet steamer
Built: 1886, J.P. Smith, Chicago
Sank: October 29, 1887 Lives lost: 40 to 50
Length: 177' Beam: 26'
Cargo: passengers, pig iron, produce, fish, package freight, barrel staves
Propulsion: steam screw (propeller)
Depth of Wreckage: 200'
From the moment she was launched, onlookers predicted bad luck for the elegant packet steamer Vernon. She was fast and beautifully adorned, but a math error by here designer left her top-heavy and unstable. Bult for the Booth Fish Company of Chicago, the vessel regularly carried passengers and cargo between Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Chicago.
On Oct. 28, 1887, the Vernon departed Frankfort, Mich., bound for Lake Michigan's western shore. Onboard were 40 to 50 passengers and crew. About 10 p.m. a northeast gale brewed, forcing the ship to struggle throughout the night against the heavy, rolling seas. Immense waves finally swamped the vessel, flowing through open hatches and cutting the steamer's power. The helpless Vernon was no match for the storm's fury, and by 4 a.m. the following morning she had sank in deep water off Two Rivers, Wis.
Sole survivor Axel Stone claimed that the steamer's captain had over-loaded his ship, leaving her side-loading hatches only six inches above the water. Cargo overflowing from the holds had blocked the forward hatches, and they could not be closed. These circumstances had left the Vernon dangerously susceptible to flooding - the likely cause of her sinking.
Today, the Vernon rests in 200 feet of water, about five miles due east of Rawley Point. Well-preserved by Lake Michigan's cold, fresh water, the shipwreck lists to starboard amid a field of cargo blown from her packed holds. Her forward gangway hatches are indeed open, just as Stone described.