October 24, 1899: Schooner Criss Grover wrecks at Split Rock Island

On this day on Lake Superior in 1899, the ninety-foot long, three-masted schooner Criss Grover ran aground and wrecked near Split Rock Island—eleven years before the Split Rock Lighthouse first lit. Enroute from Bay Mills, Michigan, to Duluth with a load of dynamite, the Grover ran into gale or thick fog (accounts differ) and struck a reef near the island. Divers today can see its hull and anchor in about 53 feet of water near the island. No one was killed, and the next day the crew began stripping it of any reusable items—it was so rotten and damaged it was deemed unsalvageable. Launched in 1878, the schooner was known among Lake Superior mining towns as a “powder boat,” as she often hauled blasting powder and dynamite to mining and lumber camps when no other vessel would. It wasn’t the first time the Grover had run aground. In 1880 she had also come ashore with heavy damage in Lake Huron near AuSable, Michigan. The wreck was declared a total loss, but she was salvaged and returned to action. Unfortunately, life-saving efforts during that incident proved fatal—for one of the volunteer rescuers. A local judge was manning a small canon that propelled tow lines to the floundering vessel when the cannon exploded, killing him.

Split Rock Lighthouse, c. 1930s. (Image: Zenith City Press)