Lake Superior Shipwrecks
Present Description

The remains of the rafting tug Niagara are lying on a rocky slope off Knife Island. The wreckage is broken into four main sections; the stem, the starboard side and keel, a detached section of starboard rail and the port side. Together, these four pieces of wreckage represent the forward half of the vessel. No evidence of the Niagara's stern was found during the survey and it may have been recovered during salvage operations or simply be lying outside of the survey area a good distance away from the remains of the bow. Although disjointed, both sides of the vessel are preserved up to the deck rail and the starboard side preserves some of the framework for the larger bow enclosure. A section of the deck survives on the port side. The surviving timbers appear to be in good condition although the broken ends of timbers are generally badly splintered and worn. Many of the Niagara's smaller construction details are obscured by a coating of fine sediment which has collected on almost every horizontal surface. Large areas of the ceiling planking are covered in sediment up to 2 inches thick, making it difficult to work there without first removing it.

wreck site drawing
Plan view of the stem of the Niagara; MHS/SHPO Collections
Starboard side section of the remains of the Niagara; MHS/SHPO Collections
Port side section of the remains of the Niagara; MHS/SHPO Collections

Plan view of remains of the the Niagara; MHS/SHPO Collections

The four surviving pieces of the Niagara vary in size and are scattered down a fairly steep, rocky slope. The total length of the stem section is 19 feet 6 inches and it is resting in 65 feet of water. The starboard side and keel is approximately 20 feet downslope from the stem. This piece of wreckage is 77 feet in length. Its forward end is at a depth of 65 feet and the after end is in 85 feet of water. The disarticulated piece of the starboard side is 23 feet long. It is lying on the port side of the starboard section approximately 30 feet from its after end and is resting in 80 feet of water. The Niagara's 66-foot long port side is roughly 100 feet downslope of the starboard section and is lying at the bottom of the rocky incline. The forward end is resting on rocks at 85 feet and the after end is lying on the sandy lake bottom at 95 feet.

The Niagara's keel has a total preserved length of 66 feet. In order to achieve the necessary molded depth, the keel is composed of two timbers stacked on top of each other. Both keel timbers have a sided dimension of 10 inches. The upper timber is 15 inches molded. Unfortunately, the lower keel timber is very heavily eroded and no original bottom surface was apparent anywhere along its length. The maximum preserved molded dimension of this timber is 13 inches. The long keel timbers were built of shorter sections which were scarfed together. The single fully preserved section is 27 feet 6 inches long and has a Z scarf at each end. These scarfs are both 5 feet 1 inch in length and cross under at least two sets of frames in order to minimize the weakness caused by the joint. The two keel timbers are joined by iron bolts. Unfortunately, the end of the keel is not preserved so it is uncertain how the keel and the stem were joined.

wreck site image 1 wreck site image 2

Photo 1: Niagara wreck site: keel, stern, 1992; MHS/SHPO Collections
Photo 2: Niagara wreck site: starboard side, section of keels and floors, 1992; MHS/SHPO Collections

The stem is probably the best preserved piece of the Niagara. It is a single straight timber approximately 19 feet long. Since its lower end is covered by iron sheathing and the stem knee, it was not possible to measure its exact length. This timber is a voussoir-shaped hexagon with a maximum molded dimension of 18 inches. The aft sided dimension is 10 inches and the forward edge is sided 3 inches. There is a 2 1/2 inch thick iron shoe protecting the entire forward edge of the stem. There are two breasthooks attached to it. The upper breasthook is a 4 1/2 inch, 17 inch high triangular chock fixed 3 feet 4 inches below the top of the stem. This breasthook supports the upper piece of the deck enclosure framework and marks the level of the upper deck. The second breasthook strengthens the cap rail of the main deck. It is composed of triangular chock 4 1/2 inches thick and 2 feet 6 inches high. This chock is supported by two wing-shaped pieces 3 1/2 inches thick which form the top surface of the rail. This assembly is fastened to the stem 3 feet 10 inches below the upper breasthook. There are two distinct rabbets on each side of the stem. The lower rabbet extends from below the area covered by iron sheathing to the lower breasthook. This fairly wide, deep rabbet received the hooding ends of heavy lower hull strakes. The upper rabbet was intended to hold the ends of the lighter planking of the deck enclosure. It is set slightly inboard of the first rabbet and extends to the upper breasthook. There are a number of small fittings on the upper end of the stem. Small iron rings are set on either side of the stem 15 inches below the top. Photographs of the Niagara show these rings to be part of the gear for handling the anchor chains. In addition, small wedge-shaped pieces of wood have been attached to either side of the stem above these rings. These have not been identified in any photographs and their purpose is uncertain. The top of the stem is covered by a very finely fitted cap made of copper sheeting. This cap served to protect the end grain of the wood from damage due to exposure. Finally, traces of the Niagara's white paint are plainly visible on the stem.

Thirty-four framesets are preserved in whole or part on the Niagara. These are composed of either two or three futtocks and a small floor timber. There are 29 floor timbers bolted to the top of the keel. These floors are straight, sawn timbers 6 inches sided and 12 inches molded. Their average length is around 3 feet although they become longer towards midships. Of the framesets preserved on the starboard side, 29 are composed of two futtocks and five use three futtocks. Like the floors, the futtocks are regular, sawn timbers. At the inboard end, they average 6 inches molded and 10 inches sided. The average center-to-center space of the futtocks is 2 feet. All of the forward frames use double futtocks and triple futtocks begin to appear around midships, possibly to help take the weight of the ship's machinery. The futtocks are fastened to the side of the upper keel timber with 1 inch diameter iron bolts. At least two bolts are used per futtock. Although it was not possible to make an exact measurement of the angle at which the futtocks are attached to the keel, it is fairly acute.

wreck site image 1 wreck site image 2

Photo 1: Niagara wreck site: port bow, 1992; MHS/SHPO Collections
Photo 2: Niagara wreck site: starboard bow near keel, 1992; MHS/SHPO Collections

Because of the position of the wreckage on the bottom, access to the lower hull planking was difficult. Where it could be measured, this planking was between 8 inches and 10 inches in width and 4 inches thick. Photographs of the Niagara show the hull planking up to the preserved cap rail to be significantly heavier than that used above it. Photographs also show a heavy wale at the level of the lower deck. At the places where it could be felt, the garboard strake appears to have been nailed to the keel near the joint between the two keel timbers. No rabbet was noted on the keel and the garboard was probably bevelled to fit flush against it. The Niagara's ceiling is as heavy as the outer hull planking. The measured widths of ceiling planks averaged around 8 inches. A few as narrow as 4 inches were present as were a number of stealers towards the bow. These planks were generally attached to the frames with two nails per futtock. The ceiling planks usually meet in butts although there are a few long Z scarfs present.

The port side of the Niagara preserves a section of her lower deck approximately 3 feet above the side. This deck is built of timbers similar to the ceiling planks. They are around 4 inches thick and 8 inches to 10 inches wide. There is at least one Z scarf at the end of a plank which had been fastened with edge bolts. The surviving deck was supported by nine wooden knees. These knees are up to 6 inches wide and their arms vary from 1 foot 8 inches to 2 feet 3 inches in length.

The height of the main rail above the deck is 3 feet. The cap rail is a heavy timber 4 inches thick and 10 inches wide. Several features which can easily be identified in photographs are preserved along the rails. Hawse holes are preserved in the planking attached to the stem section and the port side. The two forward fairleads are preserved on both the starboard and port sides. Curiously, the metal parts of both aft fairleads have been hacked out of the wood. Whether this was done when the Niagara's machinery was salvaged or perhaps by modern souvenir hunters is unclear. There are two iron chocks. One of these is on the port side rail and the other is on the rail of the disarticulated piece of the starboard side. Finally, the forward gangway can be seen on the port side. The gangway is 6 feet wide.

On the starboard side, a section of the framework used to support the planking which enclosed the bow and the upper deck is preserved. None of the planking or the decking, however, has survived. The upright timbers of this framing are squared 3 1/2 inch by 5 inch pieces which are set into the rail and attached to the main body of the hull. Spaced approximately 2 feet apart, these supports show that the upper deck was approximately 6 feet above the main deck. A rail 7 inches wide and 2 inches thick with smaller planks fastened to either side of it form a cap for these stanchions. The badly eroded remains of the stanchions which supported the upper deck rail are attached to the top of these planks. These stanchions are 3 inches by 4 inches. The upper deck rail was 3 feet 3 inches above the deck.

|--Niagara-- |--Historic Description-- |--Construction and Career--|
|--Log Rafting and the Lake Superior Timber Industry-- |--Description of the Wreck Event--|
|--Post-Depositional Impacts-- |--Present Description-- |--Significance-- |--Photographs--|
|--Minnesota Lake Superior Shipwrecks-- |
|--Minnesota Historical Society Homepage--|