Saginaw River vessels -
Though she sank 94 years ago this September, the East Saginaw-built three-mast schooner ELLA ELLINWOOD still breasts the onshore breezes of Lake Michigan.
East Saginaw Schooner Still Meets the Wind
How is this possible? The graceful vessel is immortalized in iron and brass as part of the 'World's Largest Weathervane," located between Montague and Whitehall, Michigan, on White Lake. The weathervane stands 48 feet tall and was fabricated by Whitehall Metal Studios. A 12-foot depiction of a schooner, claimed to be modelled after the ELLINWOOD surmounts the mast and serves as the vane for a 20-foot arrow.*
The ELLA ELLINWOOD was built in 1869 by William Dixon and Ralph Ellinwood of East Saginaw and named after Ellinwood's wife. She was 106 feet in keel length, 26 feet beam and 9 feet in depth. Her tonnage was calculated at 157 tons gross and 150 net. She was built for Joseph Heald of Montague and was registered out of Grand Haven as number 8604. Anders Flagestadt of Montague also had invested in her.
In photos which exist of the ship she appears as a graceful 3-master, heavily-rigged to be handled by a small crew from the deck. Her long bowsprit and tall topsail-rigged masts show her to be one of the vast fleet of handy lumber hookers that plied the Great Lakes lumber ports in the late-1800's. She must have been a handy sailer indeed, for she remained in the lumber trade for 32 years without a major mishap - until the end.
In 1878 the little schooner received a rebuild and was given new decks. An incident in the fall of 1880 proved her worth. In the company of two other schooners, she left the Heald, Murphy and Cripin lumber dock at Montague, loaded with lumber for Lake Erie, on October 15. Shortly after it departed, the little fleet encountered a terrific gale on Lake Michigan. After four days, when nothing had been heard from them, the three schooners were considered lost. All three had, however, beat against the gale for two days and then sought shelter in the lee of the Manitou Islands, where they had waited out the storm. Ship reporters at Mackinaw had reported them merrily passing the Straits on the 20th.
The schooner was sold to Anders Flagestadt’s brother Thomas in 1880, and the ELLINWOOD remained in his posession until lost in a storm in 1901.
On September 29 of that year, the ELLINWOOD was downbound with a cargo of lumber and slabs. She encountered heavy forest fire smoke, lost her bearings and went ashore between Fox Point and Washington Island, Wisconsin. The vessel suffered heavy damage on the rocky shore, but 72-year-old Captain Tom Flagestadt and his crew were able to abandon her in her smallboat. While pulling for shore however, they struck a boulder and the little boat was smashed. Even though some of the crew were unable to swim, they all managed to make it to shore safely, though in an exhausted condition.
Thoughts were at first entertained that the old schooner might be saved, but within a couple days she was declared a total loss. A nor'easter which passed through the area on October 24-6 finished the job, goading the lake into pounding the hard-working ELLINWOOD to splinters.
Though she was gone, the little schooner which had been a fixture around White Lake for more than three decades was far from forgotten. She is still remembered as part of the landmark weathervane.
* The weathervane depicts her as a 2-master though official records and contemporary photos show her as a 3-master. May have been rebuilt around 1900. (editor's note - Jean Mikkelson of Montague contributed to this story end provided the picture)