The Venerable Tug E.D. Holton

by Brendon Baillod

This weekend, we did some pretty extensive sidescan work in the Keweenaw Waterway, including a full survey of the Bay of Dollar Bay and the shoreline all the way to Ripley. One of the targets I expected to see was the remains of the venerable tug E.D. Holton, which burned at the C & H Coal Docks on August 31, 1927.

The Holton is a notable vessel in Great Lakes history due to her longevity. She was launched at Milwaukee by the Wolf & Davidson shipyard on Saturday, September 19, 1874 and sailed the Lakes for over 50 years – a remarkable feat for a wooden hulled work vessel. She was a large, wooden hulled tug at 56 x 13.5 x 7 feet and 24 gross tons, and was named for Edward D. Holton, Milwaukee’s first sheriff and an important early Milwaukee settler and businessman. She spent much of her career in Milwaukee as a harbor and work tug owned by the Starke Brothers, being sold in 1889 to the Slyfield Brothers of Frankfort, Michigan who had her substantially rebuilt and repowered. She came to the UP in 1925 when she was sold to Fred Lapis and Leo “Pope” DeMars, who employed her in in the Copper Country and Marquette.

The Holton was lost on Thursday, August 31, 1927 when docked with a sand barge for the night off the Calumet & Hecla Coal Docks. At 3AM, she was found to be on fire, eventually catching the dock on fire as well. She was soon pushed away and sank a short distance from shore in about 20 to 30 feet of water. Including the damage to the dock, the loss totaled $50,000 and was only partially covered by insurance. Leo “Pope” DeMars, her primary owner, was a well-known semi-pro hockey player in the UP who went on to found junior hockey programs in the Marquette area.

The wreckage of the E.D. Holton has been known for many years, having been a dive target for the MTU Aquanauts Dive Club in the early 70s, but I don’t believe the remains have ever been identified accurately. They currently lie in 20 to 30 feet of water just west of the former UP Power Company Coal Dock at 47.07.140 / 88.31.501. The Holton’s hull is substantial, rising several feet off the bottom and includes her large two-cylinder high pressure steam engine.



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