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Hesper

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Minnesota Historical Society Press
Black and white photograph of the Hesper, c.1900.

Starboard bow view of the Hesper in St. Mary's River, c.1900.

In late October 1896, Hesper, a wooden-hulled steamer, was caught in a Lake Superior tempest as she towed the schooner-barge Samuel P. Ely from Duluth to Two Harbors. Unable to steer both vessels into the safety of Agate Bay, Hesper's crew severed the towline. Ely dropped anchor, hoping to ride out the storm, while Hesper fought her way into the bay. The storm proved too much for Ely, hurling her against the harbor's west breakwater where she broke apart and sank. The crew survived. Several years later, Hesper would suffer a similar fate.

Hesper was launched at Radcliffe Yard in Cleveland on June 28, 1890. Constructed for that city's Bradley Transportation Company, she was a bulk freighter with a forward pilot-house, designed to haul loads like grain and iron ore across the Great Lakes. With masts and a steam engine, Hesper was a hybrid that reflected the transition from wind-powered vessels to mechanically propelled ships. About 250 feet long, she was large for her day; today, many Great Lakes freighters measure more than 1,000 feet.

Hesper's career was mostly uneventful. On May 3, 1905, however, as she forged through a northeaster en route to Duluth, the crew lost its bearings and the ship was thrown against a reef near present-day Silver Bay. She was repeatedly bludgeoned against the rocks until an enormous wave pitched her over the reef. Fortunately, the ship's crew escaped before she sank.

Today, Hesper rests thirty to fifty feet below the surface of Lake Superior, abutting the west breakwater at Silver Bay Harbor, a port constructed long after the ship went down. The port and starboard sides of the hull, which was split near the turn of the bilge, now lie adjacent to the hull's base. Hesper was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, two years after Ely.

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"Hesper is Wrecked." Duluth Evening Herald, May 5, 1095.

James, Stephen R. "Hesper (US Registry 96054)." National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, September 1994. State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Wolff, Dr. Julius F., Jr. Julius F. Wolff Jr.'s Lake Superior Shipwrecks. Contributing ed. Thomas R. (Thom) Holden. Duluth, MN: Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., 1990.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of the Hesper, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of the Hesper, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of the the Hesper at Manitowoc, c.1900
Black and white photograph of the the Hesper at Manitowoc, c.1900
Black and white photograph of bronze capstan from the Hesper
Black and white photograph of bronze capstan from the Hesper

Turning Point

On May 3, 1905, the bulk freighter Hesper loses her way on Lake Superior in a storm, is thrown against a reef, and sinks near present-day Silver Bay.

Chronology

1890
Hesper is launched at Radcliffe Yard in Cleveland on June 28. She is about 250 feet long, with masts and a steam engine.
1896
In late October, Hesper is caught in a Lake Superior tempest as she tows the schooner-barge Samuel P. Ely. Hesper survives the storm but Ely sinks.
1905
On May 3, Hesper loses her way on Lake Superior in a storm, is thrown against a reef, and sinks near present-day Silver Bay.
1994
Hesper is added to the National Register of Historic Places, two years after Samuel P. Ely.