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Langell Shipyard Walking Tour

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The tiles on this marker present an illustration of lumber piles and a work shed in the Langell Shipyard. In 1872, Simon Langell moved his shipyard from the St. Clair River to a 12-acre site immediately across the Pine River from this marker. Today, the St. Clair Boat Harbor and the city’s Sewage Treatment plant occupy the former shipyard site. 


Langell moved his shipyard from the St. Clair River to the Pine River because the Pine offered deeper waters along the shoreline which was better for side-launching boats. The Pine also had a slower current than the St. Clair River. The shipyard was a very industrial site and typical of that type of business in the late 1800’s. During the years from 1872 to 1900, Langell built 26 freighters, schooners and yachts ranging in length from the 42 ft. GROWLER to the 269.5 ft. KALIYUGA. After 1900, the shipyard became a repair and service site for wooden boats plying the Great Lakes. 

Langell Shipyard buildings on tiles (Marker #4)

Wood, Rectangle, Font, Landscape

Ships Built By Simon Langell

Chronological Order


Wood barkentine built in 1864 (US 11763)

138.5 x 26.1 x 10.9

398 gross tons

May 10, 1877, escaped to the United Kingdom from debt, departed from Quebec.


Wood scow schooner built in 1865 (US 15330)

74 x 20 x 5.4

59 gross tons


Wood schooner, built in 1867 (US 1123)

135 x 26 x 10.3

243.94 gross tons

Rebuilt 1883 to 138.42 x 27 x 9.5

268 gross tons


Sold Canadian in 1915 (C 130324)

November 27, 1922, stranded four miles off Pt. Simcoe Island, Lake Ontario


Wood scow schooner built in 1869 (US 39371)

42 x 9.8 x 2.6

9 gross tons


Wood Schooner, built in 1870 (US 1926)

133.8 x 27.4 x 9.4

279 gross tons

August 28, 1906, ran agound near Cleveland in a storm on Lake Erie and burned


Wood steam ferry-tug built in 1873 (US 90495)

August 5, 1873, burned in St. Clair, Michigan


Wood bulk freighter, launched May 17, 1873 (US 6772)

179.1 x 32.58 x 12.16

757 gross tons

October 27, 1894, foundered off Sturgeon Point, Lake Huron


Wood bulk freighter built in 1873 (US 125238)

184.66 x 32.16 x 21.25

1,009 gross tons

September 6, 1908, beached 10 miles west of Whitefish Point, Lake Superior and went to pieces. August 21, 1910, wreck removed and sunk in deep water


Wood scow schooner built in 1874 (US 140164)

50.1 x 14.3 x 3.4

16 gross tons


Wood barge built in 1875 (US 46130)

138.2 x 26.2 x 15.8

458 gross tons

1879 received engine and a propeller

Rebuilt 1885, 177.7 x 28.2 c 15.5

590 gross tons

1886, renamed BESSEMER

October 5, 1889, hit piers at Portage Entry, Lake Superior, total loss


Wood schooner barge, built in 1875 (US 46229)

146 x 30.1 x 11.1

326 gross tons

1902 rebuilt

September 12, 1904, rebuilt as a steam barge, 146' x 30' x 11', 403 gross tons at Port Huron, MI; renamed SHAMROCK 1905, Jun 24 Leaking & waterlogged off Presque Isle, MI; crew abandoned off Black River. July 1, 1905, towed to Alpena by steamer CITY OF HOLLAND, bottom off river mouth. August 26, cabin & stack carried away in storm; located a few rods south of river mouth. October 21 To be blown up & removed by government officials.


Wooden steam barge, built in 1878 (US 155012)

175 x 32.4 x 13.3

529 gross tons

November 8, 1914, stranded and broken up on Pelky Reef, 12 miles east of Naubinway, north shore Straits of Mackinaw


Wood schooner, built in 1880 (US 91253)

168.8 x 31.6 x 12.6

510 gross tons

1916 sold Canadian (C 134474), renamed EMPIRE

170 x 31.5 x 12.4

518 gross tons


Wooden steamship, built in 1880 (US 91307)

190 x 32.5 x 13.3

567 gross tons

November 18, 1881, burned in Pequamming Harbor, Lake Superior. Hull salvaged and rebuilt as a barge in Algonac by J.J. Hill

186 x 32.5 x 12.4

618 gross tons

1916 sold Canadian (C138504) renamed WOODLANDS


Wooden steam barge, built in 1881 (US 155035)

167.7 x 30.2 x 13.1

625 gross tons

1891 sank in Bib Bay DeNoc, Lake Michigan.

December 4, 1895 raised and recovered, rebuilt to 162.6 x 30 x 11.4

594 gross tons

December 3, 1922 burned 1½ miles below Grand Point, St. Clair River, total loss.


Wood schooner built in 1881 (US 110675)

53.5 x 15.8 x 3.8

26 gross tons

1902 abandoned


Wood schooner built in 1882 (US 80881)

186.5 x 34.2 x 13.7

674 gross tons

October 9, 1906 stranded on 14 Mile Point, near Portage Canal, Lake Superior. Recovered and converted into a lighter schooner

189 x 34.4 x 135

708 gross tons

1915 sold Canadian (C 138110)

1926 abandoned


Wood steam propelled scow built in 1882 (US 145307)

48 x 16.9 x 3.1

16 gross tons

December 4, 1897 “Abandoned, unfit for service”


Wood bulk freighter built in 1882 (US 157075)

229 x 40 x 14.7

1,090 gross tons

1908 sold Canadian (C122435) and rebuilt

240 x 40 x 22

1,490 gross tons


1912 beached Beausoliel Island, taken off and hall used at Midland as dry dock

1950 wreck laid in Wingfield Basin at Cabot Head


Wood steam barge, built in 1883 (US 130272)

191 x 34 x 13.7

626.84 gross tons

1919 sold Canadian (C141588), renamed MAPLEHILL

1920 renamed MAPLEGRANGE

1925 abandoned


Wood steam barge built in 1884 (US 14429)

178 x 33.8 x 15.5

679.66 gross tons

September 15, 1932 burned at her dock in Marine City, Michigan. 


Wood steam barge built in 1886 (US 116091)

195.3 x 34.6 x 13.7

845 gross tons

1919 sold Canadian (C 138373)

November 23, 1936, burned at Portsmouth, Ontario and abandoned as no longer fit for service.


Wood bulk freighter built in 1887 (US 14458)

269.6 x 40.2 x 20.7

1,941 gross tons

October 19, 1905, foundered off Presque Island, Lake Huron, disappeared with all hands (17 lives lost)


Wood schooner barge built in 1888 (US 106549)

178.5 x 34.42 x 12.58

521 gross tons

1916 sold to Atlantic coast buyers

1923 sold to Cuban buyers


Wood schooner barge built in 1888 (US 120713)

231.4 x 39.1 x 9

1,163 gross tons

August 3, 1900, sank in collision with the tow barge SANTIAGO in the rapids at the foot of Lake Huron, one life lost


Wood steam barge built in 1889 (US 155165)

218 x 37 x 14

823 gross tons

1895, rebuilt to 22 ft. draft and 1,126 gross tons

November 25, 1909, burned and sank six miles west of Thunder Bay Island, Lake Huron


Wood steam barge built in 1890 (US 141067)

151 x 30 x 11.2

387 gross tons

1921 rebuilt at Marine City

156.6 x 33.8 x 10.6

467 gross tons

June 13, 1931, burned off AuSable, Lake Huron and drifted two miles off shore and sank in 18 ft. of water.


Wood steam yacht built in 1892 (US150582)

74 x 13.7 x 8.7

54 gross tons

December 19, 1909, burned at Lorain Ohio


Wood ferry built in 1894 (US 81492)

80 x 21 x 9.6

212 gross tons

April 18, 1995, tonnage changed to 140

June 13, 1917, renamed FRANKLIN

October 30, 1941, abandoned at Buffalo and lies at Grand Island, New York


Wood steam barge built in 1900 (US 107551)

255 x 3942 x 21

1,751 gross tons

1917 sold to Atlantic coast interest, stern cut off at fantail to take her through the locks.

1919 sold to Belgian interest and renamed ISLA DE LA REUNION

1921, dropped from Lloyds



Simon Langell -- Master Carpenter on the River of Wood

This is an article written by the Reverend Peter Van der Linden, a noted photographer of Great Lake ships and marine historian, for the Telescope magazine.

Limbs of wood but hearts of steel…such were the stout wooden ships built on the St. Clair River and its towns in the 1800’s. The twilight of the era of wooden ship building might be romanticized in fiction and eulogized in true stories but, in actuality, it was a period of hardships and strife. Besides the many problems of labor, the pay scale, the working conditions, the hours, and the sweat shops, this age of wooden ships and iron men was truly a struggle. The racket and din of the riveters’ guns in the modern shipyard was preceded by the wine of countless saws and the pounding of hammers on long nails. The pungent odor of oak, pine, pitch, kerosene and oakum in these old yards is now replaced by the acrid smoke of welders’ torches, the constant eye-stinging smog of modern industry and the ever-present stench of oil.

Behind the façade of beautiful country surroundings, these shipyards were as cluttered as the modern wastelands of industry. The constant threat of fire, made even more hazardous by the ever-present oil lamps and pine pitch, was a serious handicap to the struggling laborer. The use of coal and wood stoves, both in the yard proper and on board the wooden vessels, presented the incendiary sparks that destroyed many a life and yard. Even natural causes made life hazardous. Lightening, unbearable heat and drought could not be avoided. Men had to be made of steel to work on the ships of wood. Shipbuilding was a flourishing industry but it was soaked with sweat and tears.

In spite of all the difficulties, the men were proud of their labors and rejoiced with every finished vessel as she slid down the ways. Every launching was a solemn occasion and everyone in town joined in the festivities. And why not? The celebrations always meant conviviality. After all, the thirst accumulated in the arduous construction had to be satisfied, especially after so much sweat had been lost in the building of these giants.

Such was the environment that beckoned many energetic men to St. Clair, Michigan during this age of wood. The opportunities of a worthwhile life were here, and to this country came a man who was destined to design the future for some 30 ships and countless human lives involved in their building and operation.

Simon Langell was born in Nova Scotia and was brought by his father to Buffalo, New York when he was but nine years old. In 1843 the family moved to Newport, now known as Marine City, Michigan. He attended school but a few years but learned a great deal more by his avid reading. He began working at an early age, teaching country school, sailing, working in shipyards, and finally became an expert ship designer and builder. Later in his life he became mayor of the City of St. Clair and served in various civic boards.

St. Clair became the center of some shipbuilding but never as great as its neighbor to the south, Marine City. Prior to Simon Langell coming into the building picture but few wooden ships had been built there. The GRAND TURK of 1825 was the first vessel built and sixteen others were completed before Simon Langell put St. Clair on the map.

The Pine River, which empties into the St. Clair River just above the present day location of the Diamond Crystal Salt Co. (Cargill Salt today), was ideally suited for the building of wooden ships. The site that became the Langell Shipyard was originally a saw mill. It is presently the new St. Clair Marina which was built in 1969. Since he had an ability to work with others and had served his apprenticeship in various yards, he was able to begin work on this own ships. Not only did he accomplish this with vigor but immersed himself with the best ideas of other builders and designed his own ships. Before an artist can become famous he must prove himself worthy of the title. Simon launched his career as master carpenter by building his first vessel. Simon launched his career as master carpenter by building his first vessel, the HEMISPHERE, in 1864.

As was frequent in those days, the wooden ship was the brain child of the master carpenter or owner of the yard and consequently was usually built on speculation. This meant that the ship would be built without an order or contract, entirely dependent on its sale after she was completed. To accomplish this was no easy task because a great deal of capital or credit was on the utmost importance. When the vessel was sold (sometimes not immediately) the investors and creditors were paid off. Chances were taken than that is frowned upon with vigor today. No wonder the celebration attending every launch was such a success! On the other hand, if prospects for a quick sale after the launch and completion were dim, the work was either stopped while the ship was still on the stocks or it was completed and the owner sailed her himself until he could sell her. Sometimes months would pass before conditions would improve and be more contusive to a quick sale. These conditions would often depend on satisfactory freight rates, other times they would depend on the need of hulls for shipping. Even the labor force, needed to produce these staunch craft, would journey from yard to yard in search of work. Many men would move quickly when jobs were open. However, as usually, the economy of the entire country was the greatest factor.

The HEMISPHERE, build on speculation, was a wooden bark of 138 feet and 315 gross tons. Like many other vessels on this period, little is known of her besides here dimensions and her official number which she received in 1866 when the practice was first initiated by the U.S. Government. When Eugene Smith of St. Clair purchased the HEMISPHERE in 1868, she was enrolled at the Customs Office in Port Huron, admeasured and given the number of 11763. She was 138.5 feet long, 26.2 feet wide and had a draft of 10.9 feet.

In 1865, the year hostilities ended between the North and the South, Simon Langell (pronounced LAN-jell) brought out a much smaller vessel and named her LIBERTY. She was aptly named but rather small, 59 gross tons. Both vessels were purchased in sort order and Simon had the start of a booming business. His name slowly became recognized in Lake ship building, but presently only in the enrollment papers. Both he and Eugene Smith were St. Clair residents who could use these ships, and at the right time.

Still the name of Simon Langell was not a byword in the entire shipbuilding fraternity. He had to earn that…and earn it he did! The reconstruction period was upon the newly reunited states and business was slow. Only two vessels were produced by the yard, the GROWLER of 9 gross tons in 1869 and the AGNES L. POTTER of 279 gross tons in 1870. Then a boom set in.

The reputation engendered by the AGNES L. POTTER, owned by the Inter-Ocean Transportation Co. and the AMOSKEAG which Simon had built in 1867 finally brought recognition to the name of Simon Langell. The AMOSKEAG, a wooden schooner of 243 gross tons had a most interesting life and quite readily proved her worth for her owners. She finally ended her days named the HORACE TABER, stranding on Lake Ontario in 1922…some 56 years of valiant service, first under sail, then as a tow barge…truly a staunch little vessel indeed! She did in fact outlive her builder.

The Wilson vessel owners from Cleveland heard about Simon’s shipbuilding mastery and ordered a new vessel from him in 1872. This ship was to be powered by a steam engine and thus became the first Langell steamer. Thus began the series of fine steam vessels which Simon took pride in designing and building. The famous Thomas Wilson named her the D.M. WILSON after his young son. Twenty years had passed since the people of St. Clair had seen a steamer built in their town that was the little side-wheel ferry, the TRAFFIC of 1853. They were to see more steamers in the years to come.

Perhaps our modern minds cannot realize the immensity of the projects these pioneer shipbuilders undertook. A rather uncommon practice of the small yards was the installation of steam engines for their vessels. Since many of them had no machine shops or gear to lift these iron monsters into their ships, the practice was to build the entire ship as far as possible, launch it, then complete the remaining tasks of installing the rigging and finishing the beautiful carpentry of her cabins. After this, the vessel was towed to Detroit or some other industrial city where engines were installed. Later on, when conditions warranted, they would install them in their own yards provided they had the equipment as were those of the WILSON. Then the machinists would accompany their work to the site and complete the installation. Simon Langell had some of his ships towed down to Detroit or Cleveland where the steam engines were fabricated by prominent engine builders, such as the Samuel F. Hodge plant. These engines, known for their speed, economy and reliability had proved their worth many times over. So often in those days, the engine outlasted the hull for which she was built. Some even outlasted several hulls. The D.M. WILSON and her machinery was installed in St. Clair got her engine from Cleveland.

With this contract hardly completed and his ingenuity widely proclaimed by now, Simon Langell launched a career as a most noteworthy shipwright and a very successful business man. The WILSON was followed closely by the small tug-ferry; the MILTON COURTRIGHT which was launched on Thanksgiving Day in 1873. The poor COURTRIGHT had a very short life, but not at all the fault of her builder. She burned in the St. Clair River on August 5, 1873 and the steamer JUSTIN R. WHITING in 1875.

As the economy of the nation goes, so goes the fortune of business men and the workers in the small shipyards. The ups and downs of the economy make millionaires and paupers from one year to the next. The golden years however were over.

The Panic (or depression as we know it now) of 1873 put a halt to shipbuilding around the Lakes. Although four new barges were projected for the next few years some of these were postponed. Only in November 1872 was Langell’s property south of the Pine River laid out to be a permanent institution but this was also postponed because of the severe times. In the meantime Simon was off looking for work to do, any work which would keep his family alive and keep his talents active. He designed the large schooner J.H. RUTHER which was built in Marine City. The Port Huron Daily Times, on Wednesday April 16, 1873, spoke of him as “well known to vessel men as one of the best shipwrights and architects on the Lakes.” His reputation now widespread, kept him alive during the dark days following the Panic. He did complete the launching of the JUSTIN R. WHITING whose keel was laid August 5, 1874 but she was supposed to be a steam barge and she did not receive her engines until 1879.

Early in 1878 times began to pick-up and Simon purchased a stand of oak timber from the property of Captain Clark. Soon the men were at work building the shops and fitting out the yard in preparation to the building the first two steam barges for the J.L. Woods Enterprise of Cleveland. On Saturday, September 7, 1878, the OSCODA was launched. In 1880 the schooner MELBOURNE and the steam barge MIDDLESEX were built. To provide more labor in his yard (for experienced shipwrights were at a premium) he hired quite a number of French ship carpenters from Montreal and moved their families to St. Clair.

From the 1880 launching of the barge MELBOURNE and steamer MIDDLESEX, to the 1890 LANGELL BOYS, the decade provided work for all. The next ten years produced fifteen vessels…no other decade would ever equal that production for Simon Langell or St. Clair, save the steel years from 1901 to 1911. In 1881 the steam barge OGEMAW and the schooner RAMBLER were built. 1882 saw the schooner WAYNE, the steam propelled scow TRANSFER, and the steam barge D.C. WHITNEY muddy the serene Pine River. In 1883 the steam barge NIPIGON was launched, followed by the steamer KALKASKA in 1884 and the steam barge SIMON LANGELL of 1886.

Then in 1887, the largest wooden steamer ever built by the Langells caused a sensation in the little town of St. Clair. The fanfare was enhanced by the throng which attended the launch. People came from as far away as Cleveland and other Ohio cities. The huge wooden monster rested on the stocks, her masts rising higher than any of the smokestacks in town. The ship was christened the KALIYGA, a name that would soon be recognized around the Lakes. The attendance ceremonies and the merrymaking that followed would be remembered for a long time in that quite town. But later she would be known in the heart-rending terms, for she disappeared with all hands during a violent gale on Lake Huron on October 19, 1905.

To complete the decade which launched fifteen ships were the schooner ARENAC and FONTANA of 1888, the steamer OSCAR T. FLINT of 1889, and the steamer LANGELL BOYS 1890. These ships that sailed the Lakes for many years not only placed Simon’s name in the limelight but earned him the respect of all shipbuilders around the saltless seas. As a matter of fact, he gained prominence in his own town as well, so that he was elected mayor five different times…1888, 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1894. He was recognized as one of the leading vessel men of the state and was honored by the commissioner of shipbuilding of Michigan himself. His financial stature was sound as witness the fact from the Michigan Gazetteer of 1897. “Simon Langell & Sons…$150,000.00 capital…Simon Langell, president and John D. Langell, secretary.”

In 1892, Langell built a beautiful steam yacht for H. Lee Borden from Chicago. Thus had the yard and the ingenuity of its workers run the gambit of shipbuilding and past its zenith. The years that followed, with the expansion of steel shipbuilding all over the Lakes, forecast the inevitable end of wooden vessels and the death of many of these yards. Only James Davidson of Bay City hung on until he was obliterated in the tide of steel. The steam yacht was the PENELOPE which was built at the yard in record time but which encompassed all the best the workers produce, especially the excellent woodworking of the carpenters. Only two more vessels were built in the decade from 1891 to 1900, the WELCOME, a wooden ferry for service in Buffalo, and a final effort, the ALFRED MITCHELL, which was on the stocks from 1896 until a need for wooden tonnage finally brought her out for the vessel owner of the same name from Cleveland. On June 16, 1900 the ALFRED MICHELL slid down the ways, practically ready for service. She had an iron boiler house, iron bunkers, a steam steerer and “all other modern improvements.”

So on a warm June day the end of 36 years of Langell’s wooden ships came at last. Soon after, the age of steel came even to the town of St. Clair. And, even that lasted but one decade. The River of Wood, the Pine River at St. Clair, then gradually returned to its sleepy beginnings of just 75 years previous, only to be disturbed by small pleasure craft and an occasional repair to the dwindling wooden halls. The Langell yard operated for a few years in the repair capacity and the winter lay-up fleet, but this too ended as the wooden ships bade farewell to the Lakes. By the 1930’s the only vestige of this era lie in rotting bones of the R.P. FITZGERALD and the MAURICE B. GROVER which lay abandoned from 1930 to all but the youngsters who dove off their decks. In 1963 even these bones were removed for progress and a few years later the new St. Clair Marina was built to service and accommodate the modern yachts and cruisers of the present age. The Marina now occupies the former site of the Langell yard and was dedicated in 1970.

Only the memories and the artifacts of former glory remain today. Truly the Langell name and the men who worked for him helped build St. Clair, made it enviable in the annals of Great Lakes shipping and gave its proud citizens a well-deserved niche in the in the development of our nation. The hardships of private enterprise during the 1800’s had fashioned the era of wooden ships and iron men. Now the automotive age has taken over the still beautiful County but, thankfully, still leaves a vestige of hope and relaxation for its racing populace in the City of St. Clair today. We are a better nation and a better people because of the pioneers that fought so hard to win in whatever undertaking they labored. Now we reap the benefits of this labor in the modern ships that still sail the saltless seas passing respectfully the River of Wood on their journeys up and down the blue water of the St. Clair.






Great Lakes Maritime Database, Great Lakes Maritime Collection, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library. Simon Langell -- Master Carpenter on the River of Wood by Peter Van der Linden, Telescope Magazine, Great Lakes Maritime Institute (date unknown). “Shipbuilding in St. Clair,” Research Binder, Ships File Cabinet, St. Clair Historical Museum and Research Center archives.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

St. Clair Historical Museum and Research Center