The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oconto (Propeller), U19369

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On February 1, 1871 the small propeller SKYLARK was purchased from Thomas L. Parker for the sum of $6,000. Rated at only 91 gross tons and already quite old when purchased, having been built in 1857, the only purpose of acquiring her was for using her machinery in a new steamer.
      During the season of 1871 SKYLARK was used between Chicago, Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee. Considering the yeoman service rendered the Goodrich interest by SKYLARK during the Chicago fire, her purchase price of only $6,000 turned out to be a prudent investment !
      The performance of SKYLARK during of 1871 convinced Captain Goodrich that her engine was all he anticipated. At the close of the season she was laid up at Manitowoc. On November 26, 1871, she was ordered dismantled.
      Her engine, fittings and some machinery went into a new hull built by Rand during the winter of 1871-1872. This new steamer was 142 feet in length, had a beam of 28 feet and a draft of 9 feet 6 inches. Her cost was $42,204 and upon launching she was christened OCONTO. Rated at 535 tons burden, she was somewhat smaller than NAVARINO and MENOMINEE.
      She was placed in service in April 1872, and assigned to the West shore route where she proved a big asset in the Goodrich bid for the Lake Michigan tourist trade.
      On September 20, 1880, OCONTO was under the command of Capt. F.W. Stafford. Raymond Flint was Chief Engineer and Edward Carus wheelsman. OCONTO was making a scheduled stop at the City of Green Bay. As she made her way to her dock, she passed through the Cherry Street Bridge. Right then fire broke out in the Aston Planing Mill. Fanned by a gale from the south-east the flames quickly spread and were soon raging out of control. A strip two blocks wide extending from the Fox River to the East River and containing over seventy buildings was completely consumed. The toll including fifty-nine homes, a school, churches, stores, a bank, and a vinegar factory !
      The population of Green Bay was up in arms as sparks from the stack of the OCONTO were blamed for starting the conflagration. Lawsuits were filed and the litigation lasted for nearly six years with the Goodrich Company the victor.
In 1878 OCONTO blew a cylinder head while on the lake. The engineer cut a replacement from a gang plank and fitted it sufficiently tight for the ship to proceed to the next port. A fine example of how resourceful the early lake sailors had to be to keep their steamers underway.
      There were few times during the life of OCONTO that she drew notice for anything but steady, faithful and dependable service. Testimony to her seaworthiness was the fact that she was on the lake the night the ALPENA was lost. A few bouts with Lake Michigan ice gained her mention in the press but for the most part, like SHEBOYGAN, she just became an instution and a household word among the west shore ports that she served so many years.
      OCONTO finally outlived her usefulness. On August 15, 1883, she was sold for $13,500 to a gentleman by the name fo Caldwell.
      From "Red Stacks Over the Horizon"
      the story of the Goodrich Steamboat Line
      by James L. Elliott.
      Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
      Grand Rapids, Mich., 1967

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William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oconto (Propeller), U19369