Lake Michigan shipwreck added to National Register of Historic Places


The site plan of the Sidney O. Neff. Image: Wisconsin Historical Society

By Borjana Alia

The Sidney O. Neff, recognized for its innovative and architectural design as a steam barge, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It was “one of the last wooden ships still used commercially in the Great Lakes,” said Mark Sprang, the archivist of historical collections of the Great Lakes at the Jerome Library at Bowling Green State University.

Now submerged in Green Bay, the ship was launched in 1890 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from the Burger & Burger shipyard. The ship’s service ended in 1933, when it was allowed to just sit at a dock.

It sank at the dock in Marinette in 1939 and was later towed further out in Green Bay so it would not be in the way.

That was a common practice back then, said Sprang, explaining that “once an old wooden boat outlived its usefulness, you just stuck it somewhere and let it rot.”

The vessel traveled along the Great Lakes. In Milwaukee in 1898, the ship was transformed into a single screw steam barge.

“Wood ships have to be done every 10 years anyway, so it was probably due to be fixed up,” said Sprang.

The Sidney O. Neff carried all sorts of cargo, such as merchandise and even wood. “For the last few years of its career, they would just stack wood up on the deck and carry it around,” said Sprang.

The National Register is the “nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation” and is a National Park Service program to aid efforts in identifying U.S. history. It includes buildings, sites, districts and structures, as well as shipwrecks.

It is important for shipwrecks like the Sidney O. Neff and other historic artifacts to be recognized by the National Register because it gives them more protection, Sprang said.

“You also get to see another slice of life,” he said, providing “a window of how things worked back in the day.”

Makayla Vivio is a senior at Michigan State University.

“I think it’s great that something like that is now being recognized,” Vivio said. “I live in Marinette, and my backyard is on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin, so living there, my dad always told me stories of these historic shipwrecks.”

The shipwreck is protected under Wisconsin law and federal regulations against being defaced and damaged by divers and others.

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