The S.S. Niagara

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The Niagara was what was known as a palace steamer. She was built at Bidwell & Banta ship yard in Buffalo New York in 1846. She was a sidewheel steamer of 225 feet in length and was considered cutting edge in her day. The Collingwood line who built her spared no expense and fitted her out with nothing but the best, spending $95,000.00 in 1846 dollars. During her service life the Niagara went from Buffalo New York to Chicago and back. She took a period of two weeks to traverse the two thousand mile trip at her top speed of fifteen miles and hour.
On the morning of September 24 1856 the Niagara left Sheboygan Wisconsin bound for Chicago. As she neared Belgium Wisconsin fire broke out amid ships. At the time she was four to five miles out on the lake and as the fire grew out of Control the Captain turned the now doomed ship towards shore in an effort to beach her. She didn't make it. She lost power, broke up and sank about a mile from shore with a loss of around 60 lives. A very good description of the life and death of the Niagara resides on the Wisconsin Sea Grant Website.
We are lucky enough to have fairly easy access to this wreck. Being only a few miles north of Port Washington, and in fifty feet of water, it's relatively easy to get to and an interesting dive. As the wreckage is scattered over a large area many dives are required to really see the Niagara. Although the ship burned to the waterline, the steam engine is still on the main wreck and it's boilers, some three hundred feet away can be accessed off a fixed line from the mooring. But that's not all as there is a debris trail to follow and there are hull sections laying away from the wreck. The first dive or three can be spent on the main wreck. Be sure to bring a wreck reel on later dives to explore the surrounding area. You won't be disappointed.

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Niagara wreck map (courtesy of Jim Bach)

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