Anchor from historic Door County shipwreck moves back to Sturgeon Bay

The anchor is moving to near the place where its ship, a stone-hauling barge that formerly was a schooner, sank after at least 54 years of service

STURGEON BAY – Anchors are raised and anchors are dropped around Door County all summer long, but this anchor raising and dropping holds more significance than usual.

That’s because it’s the historic 1,000-pound anchor from the Oak Leaf, a schooner-turned-barge that had a career of at least 54 years in the Great Lakes shipping industry before it sank off Bullhead Point in Sturgeon Bay in 1928. The anchor recently was moved from its previous place of display outside the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse museum in Peninsula State Park to Bullhead Point, a small spit of land jutting into the Sturgeon Bay channel which is now on the National Register of Historic Places as an Historical and Archaeological District.

The move came because of a collaborative effort between the city of Sturgeon Bay and the Door County Historical Society, which operates and manages Eagle Bluff.

“We are incredibly grateful to the City of Sturgeon Bay for their support in relocating the anchor,” Amy Frank, executive director of the historical society, said in a press release. “This move allows us to place the anchor near its resting place, providing a tangible connection to the rich maritime history of Sturgeon Bay.”

“Bullhead Point is an ideal location for the anchor, given its historical significance and accessibility,” the press release said. “Visitors to the park will be able view the anchor and learn more about the Oak Leaf and the broader history of the stone industry and maritime activities in the area.”

The Oak Leaf was built as a three-masted, 130-foot-long schooner in 1866 in Cleveland and carried bulk commodities such as grain, lumber and coal across the Great Lakes. It went through several owners, which its listing on the Wisconsin Shipwrecks website says is typical of commercial ships of the day, and conversion to a barge in 1891 that added 30 feet to its length before the Sturgeon Bay Stone Co. bought the vessel in 1906, after which the historical society said it played a significant role in the local stone industry.

The Oak Leaf was abandoned at Sturgeon Bay Stone Co.’s Bullhead Point wharf in 1928, along with stone company barges Ida Corning and Empire State, but the Wisconsin Shipwrecks site says it’s not clear when the Oak Leaf went out of service. The site notes the last time it was mentioned as a working stone barge by the Door County Advocate was in 1920, a time when the newspaper frequently reported on the comings and goings of local working ships.

The wreckage of the Oak Leaf and its two fellow barges, sticking up out of the water, became a popular local attraction, the historical society’s press release said. The stone company burned all three vessels to the waterline in 1931 to prevent potential hazards to swimmers or fishermen, but their remains sit in less than 10 feet of water and rise just above the water, visible from shore.

“Clearly visible from shore, the Bullhead Point site is an excellent locale for public interpretation of the area’s historic stone industry and associated vessels,” the Wisconsin Shipwrecks site says. “The site is equally interesting, informative and accessible to divers, snorkelers, boaters and pedestrians. In a metaphorical sense, the Bullhead Point historic district can be used as a time machine to help reconstruct a small part of the late 19th-century community of Sturgeon Bay.”

Bullhead Point is a city park of 0.3 acres at 950 N. Duluth Ave., north of where County C splits off from Duluth and heads west. A Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails marker is on site for the three wrecks. No facilities are at the park.

Contact Christopher Clough at 920-562-8900 or [email protected].

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