Anchor Line Passenger Steamers

The passenger steamship Octorara, which carried Minnesota and Wisconsin troops home after the First World War. (Image: Library of Congress.)

The Anchor Line Triplets Octorara, Juniata, and Tionesta were sister ships built in Cleveland, Ohio, by the American Shipbuilding Company for the Anchor Line, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The ships made regular runs between Duluth and their home port of Buffalo, New York, where the Pennsylvania Railroad terminated. Their names come from Pennsylvania rivers. In 1916 all three were purchased by the Great Lakes Transit Corporation of Buffalo.

The first of the Anchor Line triplets, the Tionesta first steamed toward Duluth in 1903. Like her sisters, she was a 346-foot-long propeller-driven steamship that carried 350 passengers and 3,500 tons of cargo at a top speed of eighteen knots. Due to a drop in passengers during the Great Depression, she was taken out of service in 1936 and scrapped at Hamilton, Ontario, in 1940.

In 1910 the Octorara launched as the last of the Anchor Line triplets. Like the Tionesta she was forced to lay up in 1936, but found temporary reprieve from the scrapyard when she was called to duty by the U. S. Army in 1942 and served as a troop transport in the Hawaiian Islands. She was scrapped in San Francisco in 1952. The Octorara’s brass bell hangs at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum at Belle Isle, Detroit, where it is rung each year during the annual blessing of the fleet in memory of ships and sailors lost to the Great Lakes.

The best known of the Anchor Triplets is still afloat. The Juniata, launched in 1904, also served the Great Lakes before being retired in 1936. Before the army could take her the Juniata was restored and renamed the Milwaukee Clipper. From 1941 to 1970 the Milwaukee Clipper ran between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan. In 1977 she was purchased and converted to a museum ship named simply Clipper, but the business went sour and a year later she steamed to Chicago and docked at the Navy Pier as a boutique-flotel. In 1990, the ship moved to Hammond, Indiana, and was renovated as a tourist attraction with retail and office space. On December 2, 1997, the vessel, now known as the SS Milwaukee Clipper, was towed to her home port of Muskegon, Michigan. Volunteers have been restoring her ever since.