Particularly in the spring and fall, violent storms made Lake Michigan a dangerous place, and in the 1800s there were few places to hide.
Only two bridge piers were available in the area, and no harbors were open between Frankfort and Manistee. Ships in trouble were on their own in the northeast Lake Michigan wilderness.
A map shows the approximate locations of 13 shipwrecks in an area about 4 miles south of Frankfort and 5 miles north of Ludington.
The nearest U.S. Life-Saving Service (USLSS) stations in the Arcadia area were in Manistee and Frankfort. Using light boats and beach apparatus, the brave men of these stations removed stranded crew from sinking ships. When not on watch or performing other services, surfmen trained frequently to navigate rough water, recover after capsizing, resuscitate the "apparently drowned," and learning other USLSS required skills.
For the period 1830 to 1930, this figure illustrates when local piers were built, the Arcadia channel opened, and ships wrecked. It opens in a separate page, so you can use it open while you view the rest of the exhibit, if you wish.
Take This with a Grain of Salt
“Most shipwreck books seem to be written from hearsay. Firsthand accounts make fascinating reading, but everyone’s memory fades and dims with the passage of time. Consequently, there is little accurate information about wrecks.”
Our research about Arcadia’s shipwrecks confirmed this assertion. We started with the shipwrecks identified near Arcadia in Frederickson’s shipwreck charts. When we tried to search online databases for more information about those ships, we quickly found inconsistent ship names, locations, dates, and events. And no wonder. The original stories of what happened were often based on best guesses of where wreckage was found days after a ship failed to reach its destination. Several ships often had the same name, and ships were often renamed.
So we consulted with a shipwreck researcher, Brendon Baillod, who generously identified 14 ships that wrecked not far from Arcadia, the dates of those accidents, and a link to the Swayze database. Starting with that information and other online resources, we began filling in the blanks about sailing in the 1800s, fighting storms, and the very approximate locations of nearby wrecks. We are very grateful for researchers and publishers such as Brendon Baillod, David Swayze, the team of contributors to the Maritime History of the Great Lakes web site, and many others.
Even so, please take these stories with a grain of salt. Although we have done our best to tell the story of Arcadia area shipwrecks accurately, the story is still very incomplete, the details might not be entirely correct, and it is unlikely that we can fix that. What’s left of the truth might be at the bottom of Lake Michigan, buried along the shoreline, resurrected as a ship with a different name, or recorded in a lost file.
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