Sanctuary seeks status for 4 shipwrecks

ALPENA – Several staff members at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary recently nominated four shipwrecks to be considered as historic sites through the National Register of Historic Places. The register is part of a national program to identify, evaluate and protect historic and archeological resources.

The Pewabic, Kyle Spangler, M.F. Merrick and Etruria were chosen based on the different characteristics of each ship, their preservation and their story.

“The Park Service oversees the whole operation, but within the state of Michigan, the State Historic Preservation Office does it for them on a statewide level, and then submits the sites it chooses for consideration by the Park Service,” archaeologist Wayne Lusardi said. “There are very few shipwrecks on the national register compared to historic structures, and there’s only a few in Michigan. It really just gives everyone a better feel for how significant these wrecks truly are, and it also may open it up to funding possibilities and gives an archaeological site some additional protection.”

Each submission goes through several reviews by the State Historic Preservation Office, and then there is a public comment period, after which the board will review the site and decide whether to approve it on Sept. 19.

Three of the four wrecks are outside the current sanctuary boundary, but would be in the proposed sanctuary expansion boundary. The Pewabic is the only wreck currently inside the sanctuary that has been nominated for the registry. If the nominations are approved, all of these wrecks would have extra protection against theft and damage.

“Each of the wrecks were chosen on their different merits. Two were located during Project Shiphunt, and Spangler was found years prior to that. The Pewabic location has been known, and has an interesting story,” Lusardi said. “The wrecks are incredibly intact compared to other vessels. The Merrick and the Etruria are recently discovered wrecks, and theoretically all of the artifacts that were on them are still on them. From an archaeological perspective, just the intact nature of the site and the collection of materials that are still on the site make them pretty special.”

Lusardi said the National Marine Sanctuary program has had a hand in encouraging sanctuaries to nominate shipwrecks as sites for the register, and Lusardi, Russ Green, Tane Casserley and Phil Hartmeyer all discussed which ships should be nominated and split up the paperwork to fill out the nominations. The significance of nominating the Pewabic is based off of its history and close relationship with the communities in Northeast Michigan.

“The Pewabic is a little different; it wasn’t done because of the completeness of the wreck, because it has been pretty damaged through salvage operations, but it is one of the most iconic wrecks in Thunder Bay,” Lusardi said. “The story of Pewabic really is the story of the contemporary salvage in the 1800s of that wreck, the large loss of life as it happened in the collision, and the material culture being disseminated throughout Northeast Michigan. It’s a wreck that keeps on giving.”

Hartmeyer wrote the nomination for the Pewabic, and is hopeful the sites will be chosen for the registry.

“Being on the National Register of Historic Places will help increase protection for these sites, along with bringing them into the national spotlight. There is an amazing collection of wrecks in Thunder Bay, and these four will highlight some of that collection,” Hartmeyer said. “They are a good introductory sample of the wrecks located here. Between the four ships, the time spans over 100 years, and they each have their own unique story.”

All of the sites currently are open to recreational diving, but some are deep and require additional dive training. For more information about the sites or to leave a comment, visit the State Historic Preservation Office website.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.