SS George M. Cox
Craig Shipbuilding Company
Graham & Morton Line (Goodrich Transit Co.)
Isle Royale Transit Co.
George E. Johnson
127 Passengers and Crew
Isle Royale Transit Co.
Near Rock of Ages Lighthouse
Minimum 10 feet; maximum 100 feet
he steel passenger screw-steamer GEORGE M. COX was named PURITAN by the Craig Shipbuilding Co. of Toledo, Ohio in 1901. U.S. Registry No. 150898 (June 7, 1901) listed the owner of the vessel as the Craig Shipbuilding Co., and gave the dimensions: 233 feet long, 40.5 feet wide and 21.9 feet deep. The ship had no masts, two decks, a plain head and round stern. The tonnage capacity under deck was 1169.08; the capacity between decks above the tonnage deck was 378.53 tons, yielding a gross tonnage of 1547.61. A deduction of 495.04 tons was allowed, giving a net tonnage of 1052.
The ship was designed for the overnight passenger service. The first owners, the Holland and Chicago Transportation Co., intended to name the vessel OTTAWA. Before hull 82 was completed, the Holland and Chicago Co. was bought by the Graham and Morton Transportation Co. The new owners named the vessel PURITAN and launched the ship on the afternoon of May 1, 1901 ( Detroit Eree Press May 2, 1901).
The Craig Shipbuilding Co. owned PURITAN from June 7 to June 28, 1901. Graham and Morton Transportation Co. retained ownership until December 27, 1902, when ownership was transferred to J. H. Graham of St. Joseph, Michigan.
John H. Graham, of Graham and Morton Transportation Company, was a prominent businessman connected with the passenger pleasure resort service out of Chicago and the fruit traffic from Michigan. Graham and Morton had built a line of palatial steamers primarily for the summer passenger service between Chicago, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. In addition, the vessels also carried freight between these cities as well as to Milwaukee (Mansfield 1899:2:245).
Graham and Morton Transportation evolved as a stock company in 1880 or 1881 from the partnership between J. Stanley Morton and J.H. Graham, formed originally in the early 1870s. By 1899, the Graham and Morton Transportation Co. had grown to be the largest single business on the docks at Benton Harbor and Chicago, employing more than 100 persons in the summer (Mansfield 1899:2:246).
Apparently, after PURITAN was decommissioned, it was sold to a private company and rebuilt to resume the Lake passenger trade. The newly rebuilt passenger steamer was chartered to the Michigan Transit Co. of Chicago, which purchased the vessel outright in May, 1924 (Consolidated Certificate of Enrollment and License, PURITAN. May 23, 1924).
In the severe storm of December 6, 7 and 8, 1927, PURITAN broke from its moorings in Muskegon Harbor and drifted around with no one aboard. Buffeted by 65-mile-per-hour winds, PURITAN dragged its winter moorings - steel cables fixed to large concrete blocks that had been buried 6 feet deep - and came to rest against an abandoned pier at East Lake. The huge concrete blocks that were dragged by the ship prevented serious damage to the hull when the ship hit the pier (Detroit Free Press December 9, 1927). The same storm sank the canaller KAMLOOPS on Isle Royale.
The resort and passenger cruise vessel PURITAN was idled in 1929, just before the demand for recreation cruises and passage to the northern Michigan resorts was virtually eliminated by the Great Depression. The ship was docked at Manistee (Hamilton n.d.).
After the idle time at Manistee, PURITAN was purchased by Isle Royale Transportation Co. The Enrollment Document for the purchase (May 22, 1933) registered the name change from PURITAN to GEORGE M. COX. The Isle Royale Transportation Co. was an Arizona corporation headed by the man for which PURITAN had been renamed.
SS George M. Cox at Port: Kenneth E. Thro Collection, ISRO Archives.
George M. Cox was a millionaire ship builder and brewer from New Orleans, and a large stockholder of the Duke Transportation Company. The new owner had refitted PURITAN in a grand manner.
There was much excitement regarding the newly appointed GEORGE M. COX. On May 23, the ship, decorated with a new coat of white paint and carrying the International Code of Signals, left the moorings at Arthur Street in Manistee to move down to the Michigan Transit docks. Hundreds of people visited the ship as it lay at the dock, the crew finishing last-minute preparations for departure on COX's first voyage in more than two years. The ship was slated to leave for Chicago the next morning with George Johnson as captain and Arthur Cronk (appears as Kronk in most other references) of Houghton or Hancock, Michigan, as first mate. The refurbished vessel met with approval from its many visitors and well-wishers. "Entirely repainted, inside and out, the fine appearance of the ship won the favorable comment of those who inspected it" (Manistee News Advocate May 24, 1933).
The first voyage of PURITAN as the newly appointed GEORGE M. COX was also to be its last. On May 25, 1933 the ship left Chicago bound for Port Arthur to begin its new route in the passenger trade between those two cities. Intermediate stops were planned for Houghton and Isle Royale.
The steamer left Saturday May 27, from Marquette at 2:00 a.m. bound for Houghton with namesake George M. Cox and 124 others aboard (Daily Mining Gazette May 27, 1933). The captain was George Johnson of Traverse City and the first mate was Arthur Cronk. There was also an eight-piece orchestra aboard ready to join in the festivities anticipated on the maiden voyage (Manistee News Advocate May 24, 1933).
COX arrived in Houghton and tied up at the Peninsula dock around noon after its ten hour run. The vessel was opened for inspection and hundreds of local residents toured the finely appointed cruise ship (Daily Mining Gazette May 28, 1933).
SS George M. Cox, Rock of Ages Reef, 1933: R.E. Johns Collection, ISRO Archives.
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Oral History 44: Harold J. Wescoat, February 07, 1983, Kenneth Vrana: ISRO Archives.
GEORGE M. COX left Saturday afternoon, May 27, 1933, for Isle Royale, but COX ran hard aground off the west end of Isle Royale sometime before 6:00 p.m. Saturday evening while those on board ate dinner. The steamer MORRIS S. TREMAINE intercepted a wireless SOS message from the stricken ship, and the first word reached Houghton about 8:00 p.m. Word of the disaster was received by Capt. Fred Sollman of the Portage Canal Coast Guard via Ft. William. The Coast Guard left immediately for the wreck site (Daily Mining Gazette May 28, 1933).
Five life boats were lowered on the port side; the boats on the starboard side were not launched because of the extreme port list. The passengers were loaded into the ship's lifeboats and towed to Rock of Ages by lightkeeper John Soldenski's motor launch. The passengers took turns warming themselves in the limited quarters of the lighthouse, and they were served hot coffee by the wife of the lightkeeper (Cleveland News May 29, 1933).
The operational procedures of the U.S. Coast Guard at Portage Canal Station and aboard the cutter CRAWFORD offer some insight into the COX rescue operations. About 8:00 p.m. the Portage Station received the following telegram, from Port Arthur: "Steamer GEORGE M. COX aground on Rock of Ages. In bad shape. Want assistance." (Letter from F.C. Sollman, Officer in Charge, Portage Station to John Hanson, Bureau of Navigation and Steam boat Inspection June 7, 1933). Within 10 minutes a lifeboat and crew left the station. The Portage crew arrived at the wreck site at 2:15 a.m. the morning of the 28th. All passengers and crew had been removed from the wreck and were safe on Rock of Ages.
The Portage crew transported 43 persons from the lighthouse to Washington Island hotel dock on Isle Royale and returned to Rock of Ages. Captain Johnson requested the removal of baggage from the wreck, and 71 bags, suitcases and other baggage items were taken aboard the lifeboat and transported to the lighthouse, arriving there at 8:40. Twenty crew members were transported from the lighthouse to CRAWFORD with some of the baggage, then 12 more of the COX crew were transported to Washington Harbor.
CRAWFORD arrived on site at 5:35 a.m., May 28, and anchored in 3 fathoms of water. Five minutes later the officer of the North Superior Coast Guard was aboard to brief the officers of CRAWFORD. Captain Johnson was consulted on the disposition of the passengers and crew. Johnson responded that he wanted them taken to Houghton, Michigan. The COX crew and passengers were loaded aboard, and the cutter proceeded to Washington Harbor to pick up the people who had been transferred there. The Coast Guard lifeboat from Grand Marais had engine trouble and was towed to the Singer Dock in Washington Harbor by CRAWFORD. The ship encountered dense fog on the way to the dock, finally arriving at 8:55 a.m. In an hour, all remaining people were loaded and CRAWFORD was underway to Houghton. The total aboard was recorded in the CRAWFORD log as 113 (Log of the U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Boat CRAWFORD May 27, 28, 1933).
Shipwreck Site Map
Scattered wreckage, twisted steel plating, and exposed machinery and prop. Buoy attached to boiler in 45 feet.
SS Cox Site Map, Submerged Cultural Resource Unit, J.L. Livingston & J. Nerdby, February 1987, ISRO Archives.