Wisconsin Historical Society: The Sunshine Shipwreck (Scow Schooner) listed on the State Register of Historic Places

Kendall Poltzer

Town of Liberty Grove, Door County, WI. – The Wisconsin Historical Society announces the listing of the Sunshine Shipwreck (Scow Schooner) on the State Register of Historic Places. The remains of the wooden scow schooner Sunshine lie in 6 feet of water in North Bay, Lake Michigan on a bottom of sand. Built in 1856 by Jerry Dupree in Detroit, Michigan, Sunshine was one of a unique class of Great Lakes vessels: the scow schooner. Much of our understanding of this vessel type, and the lakeshoring trade in which they operated, has come from archaeological data recovered from wreck sites. Little historical documentation exists on scow schooner construction and operation.

The vessel spent the majority of its career carrying lumber from unimproved ports in northern Michigan to larger ports along Lake Michigan’s western shore. While sailing from White Lake, Michigan with a cargo of lumber for Chicago in September 1869, Sunshine was caught in a gale while off the coast of Door County. Water began to fill the vessel’s hold and the vessel was pushed closer to shore. Eventually, the vessel was driven up on the rocks on the north side of the mouth of North Bay, where it was abandoned, still filled with most of its cargo of lumber. Before the vessel could be salvaged, another storm, in November 1869, lifted the vessel off the rocks, and moved it further up into the bay, where the vessel came to rest, broken, in shallow water.

Today, the vessel sits upright and broken, with many of its hull components extant beneath the sand. As an early scow schooner, Sunshine provides historians and archaeologists the rare chance to study early scow schooner construction and the Great Lakes lumber trade.

The State Register is Wisconsin’s official list of state properties determined to be significant to Wisconsin’s heritage. The State Historic Preservation Office at the Wisconsin Historical Society administers both the State Register and National Register in Wisconsin.

State and federal laws protect this shipwreck. Divers may not remove artifacts or structure when visiting this site. Removing, defacing, displacing, or destroying artifacts or sites is a crime. More information on Wisconsin’s historic shipwrecks may be found by visiting Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Shipwrecks website: https://www.wisconsinshipwrecks.org/Home#anchor3 

To learn more about the State and National Register programs in Wisconsin, visit: www.wisconsinhistory.org.

About the Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Society, founded in 1846, ranks as one of the largest, most active and most diversified state historical societies in the nation. As both a state agency and a private membership organization, its mission is to help people connect to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing stories. The Wisconsin Historical Society serves millions of people every year through a wide range of sites, programs and services. For more information, visit wisconsinhistory.org.