Treasure hunters dream of finding historic ships lost long ago in the stormy waters of Lake Michigan. The Westmoreland, one of the most sought after ship wrecks in the Great Lakes, was discovered a few weeks ago in the waters of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The ship is sitting upright on the lake floor fully in tact with the boiler and engine still in place.
The Westmoreland, one of the earliest propeller ships on the Great Lakes, was built in 1853 as a passenger ship. She was a 200-foot long and built with large arches on either side of the hull giving it strength and stability in the often stormy early December weather. She was said to be carrying a strongbox full of gold and valuable brandy and premium whiskey worth millions today.
The steamer left Chicago on December 2, 1854 bound for Mackinac Island and then on to Buffalo, New York where it was scheduled to remain for the winter. The ship was forced to take shelter in Milwaukee for several days before heading back out to sea. The captain again had to seek shelter near the Mantiou Islands when another storm kicked up. Waves bashed the ship as ice formed on the deck causing it to crack. The ship was blown from the islands toward the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes where it eventually sank.
The 34 passengers and crew on board scrambled to safety on three lifeboats. Two life boats made it to shore safely, but the third capsized while being lowered into the water, killing 17. It was said that the third lifeboat got caught on the crane that suspended it above the passenger deck.
Ross Richardson of Lake Ann, Michigan has been searching for the Westmoreland for many years. On July 7, 2010 he headed out for one of his many expeditions to find the lost vessel. His sonar equipment picked up a signal indicating something large lay on the lake bottom. A deep-water dive confirmed that the ship was a propeller-type ship fitting the description of the Westmoreland.
The location of the wreck has not been released pending more investigation. The shipwreck belongs to the state of Michigan and is part of an underwater preserve but will eventually be open to the public for divers to explore.
Richardson has documented the history of the Westmoreland and provides a video of the dive after discovering the wreck the lake floor. You can find out more by visiting his MichiganMysteries.com website.