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St. Albans

St. AlbansLaunched: July 18, 1868
Builder: Laffanier, Drake & Co., Cleveland
Length: 144 ft.
Beam: 26 ft. 2 in.
Depth: 12 ft.
Tonnage: 450 tons
Date of Loss: 31 Jan 1881


Built for the Northern Transportation Co., Ogdensburg, N.Y., the propeller St. Albans was first enrolled at Cleveland on September 15, 1868, with the official number 23513. With her 17 roomy staterooms she was reported as being one of "the finest boats in the line". Her maiden voyage was made from Cleveland to Detroit under the command of Capt. J. J. Knapp, arriving in Detroit on September 26, 1868.


In January, 1875, all boats belonging to the Northern Transportation Company were sold at Assignee's sale, the St. Albans being purchased by the Northern Transit Co. of Rockport, Ohio, and placed on the Ludington line.


On January 31, 1881, the St. Albans left Milwaukee for Ludington, MI., with passengers and a cargo of flour, in barrels and sacks, equal to 1,800 barrels total. The winter had been harsh with ice becoming a growing problem for navigation. On January 20th the Ludington Daily Record reported Ludington harbor blocked by ice which was piling up and increasing daily. The propeller Truesdell had suffered damage when ice knocked iron sheeting off her bow.


The St. Albans had left Milwaukee on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. with fine weather, by January standards. The pumps were tested continuously as a precaution due to the constant danger presented by ice. The St. Albans was no stranger to lake ice. She had spent thirteen years plowing her way through it without suffering any serious damage. At 10:45 a.m., when about 16 miles northeast of Milwaukee, ice drove a hole in the port bow beneath the water level and the engineer reported that the St. Albans was taking on water fast. All pumps were started as the St. Albans was turned about in an attempt to return to Milwaukee but, within 30 minutes, the rapidly gaining water had put out the fires and left her without power. At 12:30 p.m. the 22 crewmen and 5 passengers divided into four small boats and pushed off the sinking vessel. A northwest wind made slow going for the little boats and they had only made about five miles when darkness descended on them. A snow storm had set in after midnight adding to the danger. Throughout the long night the boats continued working their way towards the distant shore through the fields of slush ice, blinding snow and icy spray. The boats had been well supplied and included woolen blankets which would have been some small comfort as the temperature became numbingly cold.


The four boats managed to stay together during the night and dawn found the exhausted occupants nearing the Wisconsin shoreline. At 9:30 a.m. they spotted the steamer Nashua as she exited the harbor. Coming alongside, the Nashua lowered a boat but the decision was made to keep heading for the shore rather than risk being swamped by the steamer. Spotted from shore a group of citizens, police and fire departments used boards and lengths of rope to cross the ice began hauling in the frostbitten occupants all of whom survived with the possible exception of one deckhand which some news accounts stated was lost.



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