Jon Paul’s Maritime Diaries

WUAA divers work on surveying the wreck site. Photos by Ryan Powley.

The Wisconsin Underwater Archaeological Association (WUAA) was back in Baileys Harbor recently surveying the many wrecks that lay between the old lighthouse and the Baileys Harbor Yacht Club. This year’s project started May 30th and concluded on June 1st, although the group plans to come back sometime this summer.

WUAA first came to Baileys Harbor in 1998 to document the wreck off of the old birdcage lighthouse in cooperation with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS). Since then a Wisconsin Maritime Trails Sign has been placed on the observation deck of the Baileys Harbor Marina by the WHS, a mooring buoy has been placed on the wreck for easy access and wreck preservation and the schooner Christina Nilson has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Russel Leitz and Hank Whipple have coordinated the projects since 1998 with additional projects in 2003 and 2007. Russ has been researching shipwrecks in Baileys Harbor and has documented 15 wrecks from 1851 until 1929. They include 11 schooners, 2 scow schooners, 1 brig and 1 gas powered vessel. The many sections that lay scattered from the lagoon behind the lighthouse, in front of the lighthouse, and trail that leads past the Baileys Harbor Yacht Club are from numerous shipwrecks.

Side Scan sonar image of wreckage in Baileys Harbor. Photo courtesy of Steve Wagner.

WUAA member Steve Wagner and Russ side scanned the area in late April but the weather did not cooperate and limited work could be done. Side Scan sonar is a sophisticated bottom profiler that identifies objects on the seabed. In recent years the technology has become affordable and is now used for fishing and even used in finding drowning victims.

This keel laying in shallow water from an old schooner was reported to WUAA by summer resident Jeff Stanley; it will be a future project for WUAA. Photo from Jeff Stanley.

Russ Leitz said that less than 50 percent of what has been found has been surveyed and that WUAA could be working in Baileys Harbor for three or four years before finishing. This year more work on the sites is anticipated but no specific dates are set. Goals for this year are to complete the work done in early June and to gather information to create an overall layout of the sites. The long-term goal is to document all of the sites for a publication that would be of interest to history lovers as well as scuba divers, snorkelers, and kayakers.

Wrecks of Baileys Harbor include: 1) the two masted, 118.6 foot, brig Belle built in 1848 at Conneaut, Ohio, wrecked September of 1860. 2) The 2 masted, 98 foot, schooner Lewis Cass built in 1847 at Vermilion, Ohio, wrecked September of 1865. 3) The two masted, 128 foot, schooner Fairfield built in 1846 at Niagara, Ontario, wrecked September of 1869. 4) The three masted, 132 foot, schooner Joseph Cochrane built in 1856 at Charlotte, New York, wrecked October of 1870. 5) The three masted, 88.2 foot, scow schooner Two Katies built (circa) 1870 at Racine, Wisconsin, wrecked November of 1878. 6) The two masted, 63.5 foot, schooner Free Democrat built in 1853 at Port Huron, Michigan, wrecked December of 1879. 7) The two masted, 62.6 foot, schooner Warren built in 1834 at Ashtabula, Ohio, wrecked December of 1879. 8) The two masted, 83 foot, schooner Josephine Lawrence built in (circa) 1854 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wrecked October of 1880. 9) The three masted, 139.3 foot, schooner Christina Nilson built in 1871 at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, wrecked October of 1884. 10) The two masted, 101.4 foot, scow schooner South Side built in 1867 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wrecked October of 1884. 11) The two masted, 111 foot, schooner Emeline built in (circa) 1860 at Vicksburg, Michigan, wrecked August of 1896. 12) The two masted, 116.4 foot, schooner M. Capron built in 1876 at Conneaut, Ohio, wrecked October of 1898. 13) The two masted, 112.1 foot, schooner Peoria built in 1860 at Black River, Ohio, wrecked November of 1901. Two vessels not listed that may have been lost in Baileys Harbor are the schooner Janette wrecked May of 1851 and the gas screw Pathfinder wrecked March of 1929.

Site Plan drawn as part of the 2007 project. Photo courtesy of WUAA.

WUAA is a non-profit all volunteer group that was started in 1990 and is based in Madison. WUAA’s objectives are to: Provide access to information pertaining to underwater archeology statewide; provide training to perform underwater site surveys; promote research and education in underwater archeology in Wisconsin and the surrounding Great Lakes; distribute results of research projects to members and the general public; work in cooperation with organizations interested in underwater archeological resources; and promote the conservation and preservation of underwater archeological resources and sites. For more information on the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeological Association go to their website at