July 25, 1885: The sinking of the Isle Royale

On this day on Lake Superior in 1885, the steamer Isle Royale foundered from a leak while near Susie Island, approximately 18 miles south of Isle Royale’s Washington Harbor. The vessel was launched in 1879 as a cargo ship named the Agnes and renamed Isle Royale after she was purchased by Duluth’s Cooley-Lavaque Fishery in 1883 and refitted as a double-decker passenger freight steamer. She was part of the fishery’s Duluth North Shore Line and ran a regular route between Isle Royale and Port Arthur (Thunder Bay). George Lavaque—namesake of Duluth’s Lavaque Road—arrived in Duluth with his brother John in 1869. George was a boat pilot, and John opened a hardware store and painted signs. Jerome Cooley arrived in Duluth the following year and met George at John’s hardware store, which Cooley describes as a central gathering place for “all the gentlemen loafers,” who spent hours there playing cribbage and plotting their financial and political conquests. So Cooley-Lavaque opened a fishery, which would later become part of the A. Booth Co., for the decades the largest fishery on Lake Superior. The Isle Royale sank, but all passengers and crew made it safely to Susie Island. Learn more about Duluth’s historic fishing industry here.

The steamer Isle Royale. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)