The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Nebraska (Propeller), burnt, 28 Sep 1871

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Propeller NEBRASKA, damaged by fire at Chicago.
      Marine Disasters on the Western
      Lakes during 1871, Capt. J.W. Hall

      . . . . .

On the 28th. of September 1871, about 1 o'clock A.M., the propeller NEBRASKA, belonging to the ninth district, while lying alongside the Galena elevator, at Chicago, took fire on her main deck, in the vicinity of her boilers, destroying a portion of her upper works and main deck. No lives were lost. The fire was supposed to be the work of an incendiary. The boat was repaired and went into service again. Estimated damage to propeller $20,000; cargo $10,000.
      "Hist.,of lake Navigation"
      the Marine Record, Feb. 17, 1887 p.6

      . . . . .

      PROPELLER BURNED. - The propeller NEBRASKA was burned at Chicago this morning. The fire broke out just abaft of the engine room. She was partially laden.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Thursday, September 28, 1871

      . . . . .

      BURNING OF THE PROPELLER NEBRASKA. - A telegram from Chicago last evening gives the following particulars of the fire on board the propeller NEBRASKA, brief mention of which was made in this paper yesterday. The vessel was lying at the Galena Elavator Dock, and the fire broke out about two o'clock in the morning. The upper works of the boat were destroyed, and the cargo, consisting of thirty eight thousand bushels of wheat and oats, was badly damaged. The loss on the propeller and cargo is estimated at $100,000. The vessel is insured for $10,000 in the Western Insurance Company of Buffalo, $5,000 in the Buffalo City Insurance, and $10,000 in the Buffalo Fire and Marine. She is also insured in the New York and Hartford. The loss is covered. The wheat was insured for $35,000 and the oats for $7,500. The NEBRASKA is owned by Messrs. Holt & Ensign, of Buffalo.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Friday, September 29, 1871

      . . . . .

THE PROPELLER NEBRASKA. - We learn by private despatch that the propeller NEBRASKA was pumped out and unloaded at Chicago immediately after the fire. She will be repaired and made ready for sea in about three weeks. The loss has been greatly overrated.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Saturday, September 30, 1971

      . . . . .

The propeller NEBRASKA was partially destroyed by fire at Chicago Wednesday morning. The flames broke out in the engine room and gained considerable headway before being discovered. They were confined principally to the inside of the vessel whose hatchways were closed. The vessel was valued at $100,000.
      Port Huron Times
      October 5, 1871

Fire was the fate of the steamer CONGRESS. The 1904 fire that ravaged the 37-year-old ship in northern Lake Michigan was the second and final burning She was known as the NEBRASKA when extensively damaged by an earlier blaze at Chicago in 1871.
      First launched as a passenger liner at Cleveland in 1867, the NEBRASKA was remembered as an excursion boat during the Chicago World's Fair. At 267 feet in length, the vessel also was considered in its day to be among the largest ships afloat on the Great Lakes,
By 1871, however, the NEBRASKA was refitted to serve as both a freight and passenger carrier. On Sept. 28, the vessel was docked at the Galena grain elevator dock at Chicago, loading wheat and flour, when a fire broke out in the engine room at about 1:40 a.m. The blaze was discovered by an alert customs inspection officer who sounded the alarm and awoke the ship's crew of about 30 sailors, most of them asleep in the forecastle near the bow. Everybody safely escaped the burning boat.
      When the fire reached the ship's superstructure, the flames threatened to spread to the adjoining dock and elevator. Chicago harbor tugs towed the burning ship out on the river where the fire was extinguished.
      The Nebraska was towed from Chicago to Buffalo for rebuilding and consequently survived the great Chicago fire that struck a few days later. The ship served the lakes another 33 years before destroyed by a second fire.
The boat was renamed the CONGRESS after being rebuilt in 1902 as a lumber carrier. It survived only two more years under that name.
The hold and decks were laden with pine lumber when the CONGRESS anchored to the lee of South Manitou Island to wait out a Lake Michigan gale on Oct. 4, 1904. Fire was discovered at about 10 p.m. The island life saving service came to help battle the blaze, but the fire got in the cargo and could not be stopped.
The CONGRESS burned unchecked for 13 hours before sinking at its anchorage in 165 feet of water. By then the ship's woodon deck was burned away so the smoldering cargo of lumber floated free, the wind pushing the blackened raft on toward Point Betsy.
Diver Steve Harrington said in his book Divers Guide To Michigan," that the bull is intact with machinery, anchors and boilers still in place. Also the forward cabin, which escaped the fire, is still intact. (James Donahue's shipwreck column)
      Port Huron Daily Tribune
      February 10, 1997

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: burnt
Lives: nil
Hull damage: $20,000
Cargo: $10,000
Remarks: Repaired
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Illinois, United States
    Latitude: 41.85003 Longitude: -87.65005
William R. McNeil
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Nebraska (Propeller), burnt, 28 Sep 1871