Kyle Spangler Wreck
Lake Huron - Courtesy of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
- Type: Wooden Schooner (1856 - 1860)
- Wreck Length: 130ft / 39m
- Depth: 185ft / 56m
Built in 1856, the Kyle Spangler worked just four short years before a collision with another vessel carried the 130-foot schooner to the bottom of Lake Huron. Bound down from Chicago for Buffalo on a dark November night in 1860, there was no time to avoid the schooner Racine as it slammed into the Spangler’s wooden bow. All crewmembers survived.
Loaded with 15,000 bushels of corn, the vessel sank within ten minutes and today lies in 185 feet of water off Presque Isle, Michigan. The wreck of the Kyle Spangler is relatively undamaged except for the bow, and rests upright with its masts and cabin intact.
Although the Kyle Spangler only sailed for four years, the traditional mid-nineteenth century cargo schooner serves as an excellent illustration of the dangerous sailing conditions of the Great Lakes. The Spangler’s working history is riddled with disaster: it ran ashore in 1857, was dismasted in 1858, and collided with another schooner in the Straits of Mackinac in 1858. The Spangler’s story also illuminates the imaginative recycling of resources ship owners assumed just to stay afloat. After running aground in Sleeping Bear Bay, Lake Michigan in late 1857, it was almost a year before efforts succeeded in floating the wooden schooner once again.
Built at Black River, Ohio in April 1856, the Spangler was one of many Great Lakes vessels that made trips to the Atlantic coast in the early days of direct trade with saltwater ports. Just two and half decades earlier, the construction of the Erie Canal opened the Upper Lakes (Michigan, Huron, and Erie) to the Atlantic Ocean. This in turn opened America’s western frontier to adventurous settlers and industrious entrepreneurs. The Kyle Spangler was one of thousands of hard-working vessels that, for a time, made the Great Lakes the busiest waterway in the world.
Diving the Wreck
In 2003, Michigan diver Stan Stock discovered the well-preserved Spangler, now a compelling symbol of the thriving Great Lakes shipping economy of the nineteenth century. Working in 2008 with NOAA maritime archaeologists, Stock and Tracy Xelowski documented the amazing site. Using specialized diving techniques, the team created detailed archaeological drawings and a photo mosaic of the site in an effort to assess it for public access. The team also worked with Great Lakes marine artist Robert McGreevy to develop an archaeologically based perspective drawing of the site.
Thunder Bay's shipwrecks are magnificent, yet vulnerable. Natural processes and human impacts threaten the long-term sustainability of our underwater maritime heritage. Through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary works to protect the Kyle Spangler for future generations. Protecting Thunder Bay's underwater treasures is a responsibility shared by the sanctuary, its many partners, and the public.