The middle years of the nineteenth century, specifically the early and middle 1850's, were years of prosperity for the Great Lakes shipping industry. This period spawned the development of what were to become known as the "palace steamers," the first really impressive steamboats built on the lakes, an area where functional considerations had always superceded thoughts of comfort for the travelling public. The palace steamers were the largest ships then operating, huge wooden hulls fitted with cabins dripping with grotesquely luxurious furnishings. They cost their owners a fortune to build, but they might better have spent their money elsewhere, as these vessels had about the shortest lifespan of any class of lake craft.
The new breed of vessel was the small combination passenger and package freight steamer which was common on the lakes during the sixties, seventies and eighties and which lasted, albeit on a much reduced scale, into the early years of the new century. The vessels were, for the most part, limited to a length of about 200 feet or a little more, and were usually propellers. They were wooden-hulled and the side planking carried high up the sides around the 'tween decks. On the upper deck was a long cabin for the accommodation of passengers and officers, a cabin which came to a point at the forward and and whose interior was furnished in a comfortable, if not opulent, style. The steamer normally carried an ornate octagonal pilothouse forward on the hurricane deck and stepped behind this could be found a very tall fidded mast on which sail could be set. The funnel, usually tall and rather thin, was located aft as these ships normally carried their engines far aft to increase cargo capacity. The main feature of many ships of this type was the presence of arch hog braces, huge wooden frames which arched up from the hull fore and aft to reach their zenith high above the boat deck. These frames gave to a wooden hull the strength and durability needed for the strenuous lake trade of the day.
Such a vessel was the ARIZONA which was built at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1868. She measured 189.4 feet in length, 32,5 feet in the beam and 13.4 feet in depth, and was built to the order of the Erie & Western Transportation Company, the famous Anchor Line. This company had been incorporated at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with the backing of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1865 and the new line so formed took over the vessels formerly operated by E.T. and J.C. Evans of Buffalo.
During the 1870's the Anchor Line, in association with other railroad-controlled lake lines, formed a pool service known as the Lake Superior Transit Company. The purpose of this pool service was to provide frequent service from Buffalo to Lake Superior ports and to lessen the cut-throat competition amongst vessel operators which had previously existed. ARIZONA was one of the Anchor Line steamers assigned to the pool service and she remained on the run until late in 1887.
On November 17, 1887, ARIZONA cleared Marquette, Michigan, for Portage Lake on what was scheduled as her last trip of the season into Lake Superior. In describing the subsequent events, we quote from Mansfield's History of the Great Lakes, first published in 1899 and recently reprinted by Freshwater Press of Cleveland.
"ARIZONA, was compelled to put back by a furious storm from the North East. While laboring heavily in the high seas five or six miles from Marquette, a carboy of acid was broken, filling the space between the decks with dense and stifling fumes and setting fire to the steamer. The poisonous fumes made it impossible to fight the fire, and the engineers and firemen were soon driven from the engine room. The Chief Engineer was the last to leave his post, and only when nearly suffocated . He turned on a full head of steam and joined the rest of the crew on the upper deck. There were 900 barrels of oil and acid in the cargo. Captain George Glaser stood with the man at the wheel. As the burning steamer drew near to port and swept around the breakwater, the fire blazed out from the sides, creating a general alarm and the steamers at the docks began sounding their whistles. The CHINA and NYACK lowered boats to pick up the ARIZONA's crew.
Although the Captain and crew had escaped death on the open lake, they were in almost as great peril in the harbor, in charge of a burning ship which was rushing on at full speed without a man at the engine. Sweeping around in a broad circle, Captain Glaser headed the burning steamer square toward the breakwater, determined to land the men there. She struck the pier just forward of the steamer NYACK and the crew, 23 in number, leaped to the breakwater. The burning steamer's engine, still working held her nose up to the dock until the rudder swung her stern around and the abandoned steamer shot along the pier into the slip by the waterworks. The crew, chased by the steamer, had to run for their lives along the breakwater to keep from being suffocated by the clouds of smoke and fumes from the burning acid. The ARIZONA finally buried her nose in the sand and found her last resting place..."
So ends the quotation, but this was not the end of ARIZONA. The hull, burned out in the bizarre accident, was sold in 1888 and was towed to Port Huron, Michigan. There she was rebuilt at the yard of Dunford & Alverson as a bulk carrier designed for the lumber trade. Re-registered at Port Huron, her tonnage was shown as 765 Gross and 601 Net when she returned to service. By 1900 her port of registry had been changed to Merritt, Michigan, and her owner was listed as W. D. Young of Bay City.
The extensive rebuild given ARIZONA by Dunford & Alverson brought new strength to the old wooden hull which had already seen almost two decades of service before the fire of 1887. This became evident when ARIZONA was caught in the violent storm of the fall of 1905 on Lake Superior. The gale, which raged from November 27th to the 29th, battered the city of Duluth and whipped up huge seas at the western end of the lake. The steamer IRA H. OWEN foundered off Outer Island with her entire 19-man crew and some 17 vessels were driven ashore, including the famous MATAAFA of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. This steamer, having dropped her barge outside, was driven against the north pier at Duluth while trying to re-enter the harbour and subsequently she was blown ashore north of the entrance where she broke into three sections. Nine crew members lost their lives in the MATAAFA accident. ARIZONA was caught in the storm on November 28th and despite the heavy seas her master pushed on hoping to make Duluth in safety. When she was less than one half mile from the Duluth entrance, she was spun completely around three times by the heavy seas. However, under the skillful handling of Captain Walter Neal she was straightened around and finally negotiated the Duluth Ship Canal, reaching the safety of the protected waters inside.
About 1908, ARIZONA's registry was changed to Buffalo when she was acquired by James A. White's White Transportation Company of that city. This concern operated her for about ten years and in 1918 she was sold to the Twin Cities Transportation Company which was managed by John J. O'Hagan of North Tonawanda, New York.
On April 20, 1920, ARIZONA was sold to McDonald & Griffin of Tonawanda, this according to The Great Lakes Register. The 1921 Register shows the same particulars for her new owners, but the 1922 issue shows the owners as McDonald & Griffin of Oswego, New York. If you prefer to believe Beeson's Register, then you would show her owners in 1920 as the Ogdensburg Steamship Company Inc. of Ogdensburg, and in 1921 as Alexander McDonald of Oswego. The Ship Masters' Association Directory indicates her owners in 1921 and 1922 as being McDonald & Griffin of Ogdensburg. No matter who the actual owners were in her last few years of service, ARIZONA seems to have been employed for the better part of the time in the Lake Ontario coal trade, frequently bringing cargoes to Toronto.
By this time, however, her old hull was badly hogged from years of heavy work and her condition compelled her master to seek shelter whenever the weather threatened. Strangely enough, her ultimate demise did not come amongst the rollers on the windswept lake. The end for ARIZONA finally came on December 1st, 1922, when she burned at Cape Vincent, New York. She had played the phoenix once before, but this time it was not to be and the destruction was total.
(Ed. Notes For their help with the story of ARIZONA, special thanks go to our Treasurer, Jim Kidd, and to Rev. Peter J. Van der Linden of Harsens Island, Michigan.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.