Cape Vincent

The Burning of the Wisconsin

The Ferry Lines


But this community never had intenser feelings or more sympathetic hearts than was manifested when the propeller "Wisconsin" was burned and twenty-four persons went suddenly into the presence of God. The last body taken from the water was that of Andrew F. Morrison, the engineer, six weeks after the disaster. The "Wisconsin" was a steamer belonging to the Northern Transportation Company, and was on her third trip, bound for Chicago. About one hundred persons, including the crew and the five passengers which got on at Cape Vincent, made up the company. She left the wharf not far from half after ten in the evening. The night was dark, a drizzling rain was falling, nearly all the passengers were in their berths; a half hour later and many were asleep, when--"Fire! The boat is on fire!" rang through the cabins with that shrillness and horror, such as only terror could give the cry. Men and women hurried out of the rooms, half dressed or in their night-clothes, top find the flames bursting through the hurricane-deck and crowding up around the smoke-stack like the tongues of fiery snakes, and filling the hatchway near the engine, as if mad that hey had so little freedom. No description of that terrible night can be adequately given. Captain Townsend immediately gave orders to head the "Wisconsin" for Grenadier island and clear away the yawls. Only the big yawl seems to have been of much service, and when that was bought abreast if the rail, panic-stricken men and women rushed into it, with a consideration as to the load it would bear. Seeing the confusion, the captain ordered the yawl lowered o the water, and in that position remained till the steamer was beached. Thus fastened to the side of the propeller and quite out of sight from the deck, they rushed on together, side by side, into the inky darkness, leaving behind them a lurid stream of flames and cinders, and the victims uttering more than on beseeching cry to God for the shore. But the shore was death; for just as the steamer struck the beach, some person in the forward part of the yawl cut the rope, which held her fast, the stern rope till being secured, when she instantly turned bottom upwards, and eighteen or twenty persons were thrown into the water. Some might even then have been saved, as they were only fifty or sixty feet from land but the wheel was running at full speed, so that every person was drawn under by the swell and perished. Jumping over the bow of the propeller, the steward, C. H. Dodge,--all honor to his name, --swan shore with a rope, the end of which he fastened securely, and then went back and remained in the water to assist the remaining passengers to reach the island and save their lives. More than one, in his efforts to shove himself along over the rope, was dropped off and was picked up by Mr. Dodge. It is believed that no one was lost who remained on the "Wisconsin" and used this rope as a means of rescue. On the next morning, very early, the steamer "Watertown," hearing of the burning wreck, went up to the scene of death, and soon after returned to the village with fourteen bodies. They were placed side by side in the freight-house, a coroner's inquest was held in the hotel of the passenger depot, and nearly all the bodies were buried in the old cemetery on Market street. The loss of Mr. Robert Chisholm's wife and four children, and the utter wreck of his fortune and hopes, can never be forgotten by this generation. Ten other bodies were found from time to time, as they washed ashore. Nor must it be forgotten to record the special efforts of the Transportation Company in bearing the expenses which the accident occasioned, and especially the kindness of the islanders and residents of this village, in furnishing food, clothing, and money, so far as it was required for the immediate necessities of the survivors. All those who were saved returned to his village on the following day. (Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtman top


The first ferry was established by Abijah Putnam, the founder of Port Putnam, and it extended from that village across the big bay to Wolf island. About 1809 the second ferry was started, from Gravelly Point to Hinckley's Point of the same island. Eber Kelsey ferried from this side for many years, and Samuel Hinckley from the other. For ten years Peter Sternberg controlled a ferry from Carlton island to Wolf island. Row-boats and scows were used until 1847, when a small steamer, called the "Farmer," made trips from and to Kingston, being governed by the demands of freight and passengers as to the frequency of her trips. The year after the railroad was completed to Cape Vincent the Wolf Island Canal was cut by a stock company, in which the railroad and the city of Kingston were interested, as well as private individuals. The "Lady of the Lake" was used as a ferry-boat by the Cape Vincent and Rome railroad during 1852, while the "John Counter" was being built especially for the route. The "John Counter" was owned and managed by the aforesaid stock company and designed to run through the anal, but was found too large. She was used, however, during the fall of 1853 and the spring of 1854, making trips around the head of the island, until sold to parties in Montreal. The "Star" took her place during the remainder of the season. George W. Creighton was captain of both the "John Counter" and the "Star." In 1855 the steamer "Sir Charles Napier," formerly owned by the American lake and steamboat company, was purchased by Captain Creighton, and commanded by him until the spring of 1858, when Kinghorn and Hinckley organized a company, putting the "Pierrepont" on the line, and following her, at a later date, with the "Watertown." In 1873, Messrs. Folger Bros. and Nickle purchased these steamers, Captain Hinckley still retaining his interest. The fine steamers, "Maid" and "Geneva" are now making regular trips between Cape Vincent and Kingston. The master of the "Maud" is Captain Theodore Hinckley, and of the "Geneva," Captain Coleman Hinckley, Jr.

The first ferry-boat from Clayton was a little steamer called the "Wren," which commenced daily trips in 1868, and ran two seasons. The "Midge" took her place in 1870, making the same trip as the "Wren," and also going from Clayton to Gananoque each afternoon. The "Wren" was run by S. D. Johnston, and the "Midge" by John Johnston. In 1873 the "J. H. Kelly" took the route from Alexandria Bay to Cape Vincent, making two round trips per day. She was succeeded in 1873 by the "T. S. Faxton." which is now an excursion boat, the "Island Belle" having taken her place the present (1877) season. She is a very fast steamer. (Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtman top


© Kevin Subra.   This site was begun September 7, 2000 in order to encourage interest in the history and ancestry of Cape Vincent. Thank you for visiting! E-mail the webmaster, or visit his Subra Family website which he is developing to help his family get to know THEIR history!

Thanks to Holice B. Young and Debbie Axtman for their previous efforts in launching this project!


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