Preserving Maritime History: Jim Tondu’s Replica of the Minnehaha

Jim Tondu’s Generous Contribution

Throughout all of Camp Arcadia’s History, the Minnehaha has rested in front of Camp – and often was an object of fascination for campers of all ages. Not only does the Minnehaha decorate the shoreline in a unique way – but it also provides an ever present reminder of the power of Lake Michigan.

(The Minnehaha Model, above the fireplace in the Inn Lobby)

Thanks to Jim Tondu’s generous donation, Camp Arcadia is proud to display a hand-made replica of the Minnehaha. For almost nine months, Jim Tondu worked to craft the model that we now have on display above the fireplace inside the Inn Lobby. 

When he first started the project, he took the image below and scaled the entire ship to ensure that the finished product would be identical to the original ship. Once he had the dimensions and plans finalized, the building process began. The entire ship was built to scale, down to every rope and pulley, even the anchor! The model is composed mostly of poplar wood, including all the smaller, more intricate pieces. 

(This was the photo referenced when Tondu built the replica, which is also displayed within the Minnehaha exhibit.)

Back in 1880, the Minnehaha was first created in Gibraltar, Michigan by Linn & Craig. The builders at the time didn’t have access to trees that were wide and tall enough — because these trees needed to be 80 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. To solve this issue, they resorted to stacking two 40-foot wooden beams on top of each other, connected with a crow’s nest in the middle.

Over the past 5 years, due to rising water levels, the Minnehaha has shifted and broken into two pieces. One piece still rests just outside of the pocket beach, near the turnaround, whilst the other piece drifted south of Camp. Throughout the upcoming years, it might move again.

The next time that you find yourself at Camp Arcadia, stop and take a few moments when you are waiting for the bell to ring for dinner and enjoy the beautiful craftsmanship of Jim Tondu. Thank you, again, to Jim, for his time and commitment to preserving this piece of Camp Arcadia and maritime history. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the story of the Minnehaha, below is a recounting of the events that took place all those years ago…

“In October of 1893, the steam barge Henry J. Johnson was towing the Minnehaha from Chicago bound for Point Edward at the south end of Lake Huron with 58,000 bushels of corn. At 7:30 PM on October 13, the two ships found themselves off Point Betsie facing 90 mile per hour gale force winds. They tried to find shelter behind the Manitou Islands, but at dawn the next day, they were still south of Sleeping Bear Point fighting high winds and waves to stay out of shallow water. Captain Benniteau of the Johnson decided to turn the ships south and head to Frankfort, the nearest refuge. However, somewhere near Frankfort high waves crashed over the Minnehaha‘s deck, smashed two hatch covers, and began filling the hold with water. 

William Parker, captain of the Minnehaha, realizing his ship was in serious trouble, sent up distress signals, released the tow lines, and headed for the beach. There was nothing the crew of the Johnson could do but avoid the same shallow water. The Minnehaha ran aground about a quarter of a mile offshore between Burnham and Arcadia. To avoid the waves sweeping the decks, all but one member of the crew, who drowned trying to swim to shore, climbed into the ship’s rigging. As the ship was breaking up, the captain called to the crew to grab whatever would float and go over the side anyway. But only the captain made it to shore safely. One crew member made it to a pier, but was too tired to hold onto a pole used to try to pull him to safety. 

People on shore rode by horseback to Frankfort’s lifesaving station and to Onekama to phone Manistee’s lifesaving station. The Frankfort crew arrived at 5PM, but repeated attempts to reach the vessel by surfboat failed. By the time they fired two shot lines over the bow, which was all that was visible by then, and reached the Minnehaha, there were no signs of life. Because their path was obstructed by trees blown down by the storm, the Manistee lifesaving crew reached the site at midnight in time to work with the Frankfort crew the rest of the night looking for survivors. By morning the beach was covered with timbers and wreckage, all that was left of the huge sailing ship. On the evening of the next day the body of the ship’s cook was discovered on the beach nineteen miles south (or two miles north, depending on the source). The cargo of corn washed ashore for several days.”

Minnehaha. Michigan Shipwreck Research Association

During the course of these event’s 6 sailors lost their lives, those being:

  • John Rafferty, mate, Cleveland.
  • John Rafferty, Jr., Cleveland.
  • Mary Keefe, cook, Cleveland.
  • William Ahlstrom, sailor, Cleveland.
  • Two sailors, names unknown, both of Cleveland.

Please take a moment to honor and respect those who lost their lives during this tragic event.

This piece was written and compiled by Elijah Harns, Archives Intern.

This is part of the ongoing work of the Camp Arcadia Archives program. You can support these archival efforts by becoming a member of the Camp Arcadia Historical Society. Learn more here.

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