2011 and Earlier / Special Interests

Coal dock history's still being made

It’s called Heritage Harbor.
Located in Greilickville, immediately south of the beach at the Elmwood Township park (now under renovation), it is home to the replica schooner Madeline and replica sloop Welcome.

That’s why, essentially, the old dock is now known as Heritage Harbor. But the dock itself, built by Frank Sears in the mid-1930s, has an interesting history of its own.
THE DIAMOND ALKALI unloads coal at the newly constructed Sears dock in the mid-1930s.THE DIAMOND ALKALI unloads coal at the newly constructed Sears dock in the mid-1930s.
Ownership of the dock ultimately gravitated to Traverse City Light and Power, which last used it to receive coal shipments for its waterfront power plant.

Originally known as the Sears Coal Dock, it was later known as the Burke Coal Dock (Burke also operated a coal dock at Suttons Bay). According to the 1960 Shipmasters Association Directory, the facility could accommodate “any size vessel,” but maximum draft was limited to 22 feet. The dock’s storage capacity was given as 18,000 tons and its use was limited to “self unloading vessels only.”

In the 1950s and early 1960s, that normally meant ships operated by the Wyandotte Chemical Company, whose small steamer Wyandotte (1908) was the first self unloader on the Great Lakes constructed as such, from the keel up.

As built, the historic vessel was only 364 feet in length. After only two seasons of use, the ship was taken out of service and lengthened 60 feet. It was still, however, a relatively small vessel.

Although the Wyandotte occasionally called at the coal dock, another unit of the same fleet, the Conneaut, was a much more frequent visitor, hauling in loads of agricultural lime and salt from Canada, as well as coal.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle, in its edition of Sept. 11, 1957, reported on the delivery of 6,000 tons of Canadian salt, noting that it was “believed to be the first such steamer shipment ever to arrive at the local port.” The salt, delivered by the Conneaut, was from a two-year-old mine near Windsor, Ontario, and was consigned to the Michigan State Highway Department.

“A representative of the Bureau of Customs checked the cargo before it was unloaded,” the newspaper added.
The 730-foot Middletown was photographed at the dock about 25 years ago.The 730-foot Middletown was photographed at the dock about 25 years ago.
Built in 1916, the Conneaut was 439 feet in length. In 1963 it was renamed Wyandotte, when the older vessel was retired. It had a capacity of 6,000 tons, as opposed to only 2,750 for the original Wyandotte.

Following the Wyandotte fleet, ships of the Bradley, Columbia, Interlake and other fleets called at the dock, and they were invariably larger – much larger.

None was larger than the 730-foot Middletown, which was built in 1943 as a tanker. It ship served in the Pacific during World War II and is the only vessel on the Great Lakes to have earned a “battle star” – for downing an enemy aircraft that was attacking it.

The veteran ship, now named American Victory, was laid up at Superior, Wis., last year, due to the poor economy.

Two Bradley line vessels that called at the dock are long gone. One, the Irving Clymer, built in 1917, was scrapped at Duluth nearly 20 years ago. Its original name was Carl D. Bradley. A new, larger ship was given the name in 1927. The newer Bradley sank in a storm on northern Lake Michigan on Nov. 18, 1958, and all but two of her 35-member crew were lost.

The other ship was the Cedarville, also built in 1927. It collided with a Norwegian ship at the Straits of Mackinac on May 7, 1965. Ten crew members were lost when it subsequently sank in deep water. The ship was never recovered.

Newer ships that delivered coal to the dock included the 630-foot diesel-powered Wolverine, which entered service in 1974 and its near sister, the William A. Roesch (1973).

The latter, now named Calumet, still delivers coal to Manistee on a regular basis.

At the near-shore side of the coal dock, where the replica vessels are now moored, Sears had barges and tugs, for use in his marine construction work (he was a contractor) docked.

One of these, the Charles Frank, was deliberately burned there because of a deteriorated condition on Nov. 8, 1957. The tug, which had been used for towing, was purchased from the estate of Charles Hendrickson Jr., of Charlevoix, in 1942.

The wooden vessel, built as a fish tug and originally powered by steam, was constructed at Manistee for Hendrickson in 1926. In 1928 it was re-powered by a 100-120 hp Kahlenberg oil engine.

In May 1959, Sears acquired a steel-hulled vessel for use as a tug. The Ottawa, formerly operated by Arnold Transit, had been used in service between the mainland and Mackinac Island, but was replaced by a newer vessel of the same name.

Sears had the cabins, aft of the stack, cut away as part of the conversion process.

The coal dock, and the two oil docks immediately to the south, constituted what was known as “Port Leelanau” 60 years ago.

All three docks are still there, but the Port Leelanau moniker virtually disappeared – perhaps because the commercial marine traffic diminished.

Only time will tell if the newer name, Heritage Harbor, endures longer.

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