The History of the Minnehaha

An excerpt from Days Filled with Sunshine: 100 Years of Camp Arcadia by Stephanie J. Jass

The Minnehaha in all her glory (late 19th century) could carry over 750 tons of cargo!

One interesting feature of the Camp Arcadia lakeshore is the wreck of the Minnehaha. This four-masted, two-hundred-foot schooner succumbed to a serious storm in October 1893. Laden with over 160 tons of corn, it was being towed by a barge when the storm hit just off Point Betsie. Facing ninety mile per hour winds, the captain of the barge decided to turn the two vessels and head back to Frankfort. But before they could reach safe harbor, the storm breached the ships, and they separated.

The barge—the Henry J. Johnson—was able to avoid crashing, but the Minnehaha ran aground. The force of the storm broke the ship into pieces just north of Arcadia. Despite the efforts by residents of Frankfort, Onekama, and Manistee to save the seven-member crew, only Captain William Packer survived.

For days afterward, pieces of the ship and its cargo washed ashore, and locals saved various parts of the wreckage. One of the most amazing relics from the shipwreck is the name board from the ship, which Camp Arcadia purchased for $25 in 1941 from Jennie Hovis. Her husband, John, found the sign on the beach while looking at the wreckage. He recalled seeing local farmers busy loading washed-up corn into their wagons to take home to their livestock. This name board, which dates from 1880 when the ship was built, is now proudly displayed in the Inn lobby.   

Look closely and you can see the wreckage of the Minnehaha just off the observation deck in this photo from 2021.

After the storm and the aftermath, the largest portion that remained was a 170-foot-long piece of what seemed to be the right side of the hull, which still had most of the inner and outer layers intact. In 1923, the Minnehaha wreckage was located south of the turnaround. But, as water levels fluctuate and storms move through, the Minnehaha continues to be at the mercy of Lake Michigan. The lake levels affect how much of the wreckage is visible; some years the lake was so low the shipwreck was not only out of the lake but almost entirely covered by sand. When lake levels rose again, it returned to the water.

Recently—likely due to historic lake levels, large storms, and the revetment project which removed jetties—the wreckage broke into two pieces. Shortly after that, one piece moved north to the observation railing on the west edge of the patio. Only time will tell where it might end up and whether it will continue to break apart. But for all of Camp Arcadia’s existence it has been a part of the landscape, serving as a reminder of the power of Lake Michigan and the vulnerability of us all to the forces of nature.

In the summer of 2023, the remains of the Minnehaha could be found directly in the center of Camp Arcadia’s pocket beach. Here’s to hopes and prayers that it moves a little further down shore during the offseason!

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