We are looking for pictures of shipwrecks in the South West Michigan Underwater Preserve, please contact us if you have photos.
Shipwrecks are links to the past. The Great Lakes have provided transportation for Michigan’s inhabitants for hundreds of years. Thousands of vessels have sailed these “inland seas” including canoes, car ferries, steam engines. The maritime heritage of Southwest Michigan is especially rich because of the variety and duration of human activity. Native Americans, for example, likely found the region’s network of rivers and lakes a convenient means of transportation because rivers eventually flow into Lake Michigan. It is reasonable to expect that the near-shore waters were used by Native Americans on relatively calm days. Dugout and birch bark canoes and similar small craft were likely the only means of water transportation available to them.
European settlement came to southwestern Michigan in the early 1800’s. Land was cleared and agricultural centers grew. By 1835, Native Americans were nearly completely displaced and small coastal communities sprang up.
In additional to agricultural activities, the region was also an important source of timber and tanbark. It was necessary to clear
the land of trees before planting could begin and entrepreneurs found a ready market for lumber.
Because there were few natural harbors, and river mouths often filled with sand, piers were constructed on Lake Michigan bottomland to accommodate growing shipping activity. Also, South Haven, St. Joseph, Holland, Saugatuck, and other coastal communities enjoyed a steady shipbuilding industry. Historical photos of area harbors depict busy ports jammed with lumber hookers, scow schooners, and steamers.
Several saw mills were once located on the Black River near its mouth in the mid to late 1800’s. Millions of board feet of lumber were loaded from the mills onto waiting lumber hookers, relatively small steam boats designed to carry lumber on its deck for delivery to Great Lakes ports. Schooners and larger steam boats were also used to transport lumber from Lake Michigan coastal communities.
Fruit growing was an early practice in southwest Michigan. The soil, topography, and climate, which is moderated by Lake Michigan, offers prime fruit-growing conditions. Orchards of applies, pears, and peaches in the mid to late 1800’s were later supplemented with grapes, blueberries, and other crops. A ready market for fruits grown in the region was found in Chicago and other Lake Michigan communities. In addition, related industries arose. A large basket factory was founded in South Haven in 1879 and canning companies in the 1890’s. Commercial shipping, particularly small package freighters, were used to transport various products across the Great Lakes to markets in rapidly growing coastal communities. With these products traveled accounts of the region’s beauty and natural resources. These accounts gave rise to the region’s important resort industry.
On November 13, 1999, The State of Michigan formally dedicated the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve as the tenth preserve in Michigan waters. The preserve boundaries range from just north of Holland south along the shore of Lake Michigan to Bridgman, near the Indiana border.
The preserve extends from the shoreline to the 130 foot depth, or five miles offshore, whichever is closer. The preserve encompasses communities such as New Buffalo, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, South Haven, Douglas, Saugatuck and Holland. There are numerous shipwrecks in and around the preserve, as well as geological formations including clay banks, underwater rock piles and piers. Presently seventeen sites have been documented in and near the preserve. Some of the more popular sites are the Rockaway, Havana, Verano, Clay Banks, North Shore Tug and Ironsides.
The Rockaway was a 107’ schooner lost in a storm while carrying lumber from Ludington to Benton Harbor. The wreck lies in 70 feet and has been the focus of archaeological studies for years.
The Havana, a 135’ schooner, sank slowly after taking on water during high seas. The wreck lies in 50 feet of water with keelson, centerboard trunk, hanging knees, and floor framing exposed so divers can get a good view of this ship’s construction. The Verano was a 92’ yacht that foundered in heavy seas on its way from Chicago to Holland. The wreck, now in 55 feet of water, still has keys in the ignition. Many artifacts can be found by exploring around this site. The South Haven Clay Banks are one of the more interesting geological formations of the Southwest Preserve. These banks stretch over many acres and include small grottos, trenches and structures rising as high as 15 feet off the bottom. Divers should use a compass and tow a flag while diving in this area.
Some of the deeper wrecks in the area include the steamer Ironsides, North Shore Tug and the H.C. Akeley (once thought to be the long sought Chicora).
The Ironsides foundered in 1873 with a cargo of general freight. The ship was built to haul iron ore on Lake Superior during the Civil War. Unlike steamers on the lower lakes, ships designed to run along Lake Superior’s wild lonely shore were often equipped with twin boilers, engines, and propellers The Ironsides was a twin engine wooden hulled steamer of 231 feet supported by twin arches running port and starboard. After the war the demand for iron dropped and the Ironsides was sold. After hauling freight and passengers around Lake Michigan it foundered off Grand Haven during a storm. This wreck lies outside the preserve in 120 feet of water. Most of the ship has settled into the sand, but the area around the engines has some of the structure intact. This wreck is an excellent dive for the experienced diver, but visibility can vary greatly from zero to thirty feet.
The North Shore Tug was scuttled and sank in about 150 feet of water, and is a technical dive with fishing lines, loose railing and other items that could cause entanglement. The Akeley, not confirmed, but suspected, was found in 2001 after years of searching by the Southwest Michigan Underwater preserve committee and its members. This wreck was found while searching for the Chicora, and is in 240—280 feet of water.
the SWMUP committee
makes every effort to buoy the shipwrecks in and around the preserve
with the help of local divers, dive shops and dive clubs.
We would like to thank our buoy committee, Advanced Scuba, and volunteer divers for making this happen.
If you dive a wreck site and the buoy is missing, please let us know, so we may re-attach it.
Please be advised
you are diving these shipwrecks at your own risk
Please dive safely and within your training.
For more training, please contact your local dive shop.
Not all GPS Co-ordinates have recently verified, but we do our best.
If you find the co-ordinates are incorrect, please contact us with the correct information,
So we can update the website.