Did The Oconto Start A Fire?

Table of Contents

Title Page
Other Groups
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Lay-up Listings
Captain Frank E. Hamilton
Did The Oconto Start A Fire?
Ship of the Month No. 20 Yukondoc
Oil On Troubled Waters (?)
If Only It Were So
The St. Lawrence And Chicago Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. A Fleet List
Table of Illustrations

Fellow member Scotty McCannell was going through some old newspaper clippings in his collection recently, when he came across several which he consented to share with us in the hopes that they might prove interesting to our readers. One of them was taken from the "Manitowoc Herald News" in the early 1930's and concerns an incident involving the Goodrich Transportation Company's small wooden propeller OCONTO.

The author of the article was Capt. Edward Carus, a veteran of many years of lake sailing and an avid marine historian. Capt. Carus knew whereof he spoke for as mentioned in the article, he was wheeling OCONTO at the time of the incident.

"The propeller OCONTO was built in Manitowoc in 1872 by G. S. Rand for the Goodrich Transportation Co. The steamer gained some prominence by being given the blame for setting the 'big fire' at Green Bay on September 20, 1880, 53 years ago last month.
"In that fire, 78 buildings were destroyed. It was a wild night at Green Bay. A gale was blowing from the southwest. The OCONTO passed through the Cherry Street bridge at 3 p.m. on her way to De Pere. Soon after passing the old Astor planing mill which was located where the present C. M. and St. Paul depot now stands, it was discovered that the mill was afire.
"It was the contention of Green Bay citizens that cinders from the stack of the OCONTO set fire to the mill. Long drawn-out litigation followed which lasted six years, in which the Goodrich company was eventually victor. The Green Bay fire at that time burned a strip two blocks wide, extending from the Fox River to the East River, which included 59 homes, a school, churches, stores, a bank, and a vinegar factory.
"On this trip, the OCONTO was commanded by Capt. F. W. Spafford, Ray Flint Sr., was Chief Engineer and the late John Mahnke, for years our city treasurer, was Steward. The writer was wheelsman.
"The OCONTO was 143 feet long, 32-foot beam, 10-foot depth of hold, and had a tonnage of 505. In 1883 President Goodrich sold her to Detroit parties (on August 15, 1883, to a Mr.Caldwell - Ed.) and in 1886 she was again sold to the Grand Trunk Railroad. The OCONTO was taking a valuable cargo of silk from Detroit to Quebec (1886) in command of Capt. James Martin when she struck a rock in the St. Lawrence River and went down in 100 feet of water. The OCONTO was a total loss."

We should be thankful that Capt. Carus cared enough to write down the details of this incident of almost ninety years ago. And our thanks go to Scotty for sharing it with us.


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