Steamer America

The America, ca. 1910. (Image: Zenith City Press)

The America, owned by the A. Booth Company, was a beloved ship on Lake Superior, serving for most of its life as a transportation link between Duluth, Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ontario), Isle Royale, and settlements along the North Shore. It brought people and goods to remote outposts and fishing villages along the shore and at Isle Royale, supplying A. Booth’s contracted fishermen. She also supplied the Split Rock Lighthouse and its keeper and family. This made the America an important communication tool, as shipments often included mail and other messages.

The excursion boat America first hit the water in 1898, when it was built by the Detroit Dry Dock Company in Wyandotte, Michigan. Designed to make daily trips between Michigan City and Chicago, she could hold 277 passengers and 40 crew. The Booth Steamship Line purchased her in 1902. In 1908 a forest fire threatened the very North Shore towns the America served, and Minnesota governor John Johnson called on the vessel to evacuate Beaver Bay. She rescued about three hundred villagers.

On June 6, 1928, the America left Grand Marais for Isle Royale to drop off passengers before heading to Port Arthur. In the early morning hours of June 7, she struck a reef near Isle Royale’s Washington Harbor, skidding over the rocks four times and ripping a hole in her hull just below the engine room on the starboard side. The ship’s pumps couldn’t keep up with the water pouring in. The captain ordered the ship to steer for the north gap of Washington Harbor in an attempt to beach her, but it struck more rocks and stopped ninety feet from shore. All thirty-one passengers and crew managed to get off America before she slid off into deep water.