closeup photo of Grapeshot wreckage off Plum Island

Things to see while sailing Door County

Of the many islands that surround Door County, none may be more beautiful than Plum Island. This 325- acre island lies “plumb” in the middle of Death’s Door (hence its name) between Gills Rock and Washington Island. As part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it is open to boaters from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

Little boy looking down at grapeshot wreckage

Plum Island

It is a historically significant island boasting a rich maritime history. On the northeast corner lies the U.S. Lifesaving Service Lifesaving Station, built in 1896. Adjacent to the pier sits the “Roosevelt Style” Boathouse built in 1939. On the opposite end of Plum Island are the front and rear range lights. The rear range light is a 70 ft. cast iron and steel skeleton tower built in 1896. Behind the rear range light sits the Lighthouse Keeper’s House also built in 1896. Further east of the rear range light you will find the cream-city brick Fog Signal building (1896). 

Home to Two Shipwrecks

Plum Island is the home of two shipwrecks. The Grapeshot went aground in 1867 just west of the boathouse. The Resumption went aground in 1914. There is very little left to see of the Resumption, but the Grapeshot is a whole different story!

The Grapeshot was built in 1855 by the B.B. Jones shipyard in Buffalo, New York. She was a two-masted schooner with a length of 129.67 ft. and a beam of 23.35 ft. The depth of the hold was 10.30 ft. Owned by George Holt and Charles Ensign, her home port was Chicago.  She spent her career mostly on Lake Michigan (but also sailed Lakes Erie and Huron) hauling lumber, wheat, coal and other commodities and goods. In June 1866 she ran aground on Poverty Island. Two months later she ran aground on Plum Island. 

The Wreck of the Grapeshot

In early November 1867, the Grapeshot found herself in the midst of a gale while traversing Death’s Door passage. She was heading for her home port of Chicago with a cargo of lumber and salt. For the second time in two years, she ran aground on Plum. She ran up on the rocks so far that her bow was lifted four feet in the air. 

The tug Leviathan was sent from Chicago to free her from the rocks. Later, the steamer George Dunbar, also from Chicago steamed north to help. There appeared to be little damage to the Grapeshot and the hope was that she could be refloated once her cargo of 50,000 board feet of lumber was removed and hold pumped out. Their efforts were futile. In 1868, the Grapeshot was stripped and abandoned.

Fantastic Viewing

Today, the Grapeshot lies in eight feet of water 200 feet north of the boathouse: latitude N 45 degrees 18.843’ and longitude W 086 degrees 57.084’. On calm days you can see the wreck beautifully from your boat. It is a fantastic shipwreck to snorkel. Her starboard side and most of her lower hull remain intact. The entire wreck is very well preserved. 

Article courtesy of Jim Schwartz of the Friends of Plum & Pilot Islands. 

Photos courtesy of Tim Sweet of the Friends of Plum & Pilot Islands.

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