The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
R. N. Rice (Steamboat), U21191, fire, 10 Jun 1877

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      Effort Made To Save Her Prove Successful--Damage Confined Mainly To The Cabins
At exactly half past nine o'clock last evening a fire broke out on board the elegant passenger steamer R.N.RICE, of the Detroit and Cleveland line, which was lying at her dock foot of Shelby Street. The trouble appeared to originate in the after cabin, and is thought to have been caused by the bursting of a kerosene lamp. The flames speedily made their way to the roof by means of the cross bar openings, and spread forward and aft with great rapidity. About ten minutes elapsed before any alarm was sounded, and then several boxes were pulled at once, so that all the engines except No's 6 and 7 and the special were called into service. The new chemical engine No.1 was the first to arrive, and speedily got her hose into operation, although the fire was evidently much beyond her capacity. Some of the other engines made bungling work of it for a few minutes, which seemed ages to the immense crowd of spectators, and several stampedes were caused by bursting hoses upon the dock. By the time the battle of water against fire was fairly begun in earnest, the flames had run along the cabin forward to the pilot-house and burst through the windows and roof. It is but justice to say that the department worked like heroes, and they saved the better portion of the ship after most of the spectators had given her up for lost. The struggle lasted until about half past ten o'clock, the firemen being assisted by Capt. Campbell, of the ferry FORTUNE, and Capt. Horn, of the ferry EXCELSIOR, who ran their boats close to the burning steamer and played upon her with the hose attached to their steam force pumps, and at eleven o'clock the fire had been entirely extinguished.
      A trip through the charred, dripping boat revealed a sad spectacle of ruin. The destruction had been confined mainly to the cabins, the after one being wholly destroyed with its wealth of splendid furniture, plate-glass mirrors, costly carpets, curtains, paintings, ect, while the forward cabin was also entirely ruined, although the roof and sides remained standing. The agent of the line, Mr. David Carter, states that the cabins cost about $25,000 to build
them, exclusive of all the furniture and equipments which they contained, and places the total loss at $40,000, as a rough estimate. The machinery he declares can be saved to a great extent, while the hull emerged uninjured from the fiery ordeal.
      The RICE arrived in port about eleven o'clock yesterday morning, and after unloading freight at the Michigan Central Railroad dock, reached her own headquarters at about four o'clock in the afternoon, so that all her passengers and nearly all their baggage had been removed from the staterooms. Her freight consisted of a miscellaneous cargo, somewhat smaller than usual, comprising about 48,000 pounds of iron, and a quantity of oil, lead, glassware, hats, caps household goods, etc., most of which had been unloaded at the Michigan Central dock for shipment by rail.
      The fire insurance is distributed as follows:
Detroit Fire & Marine Insurance Company................$5,000
Meriden Insurance Co., Connecticut.....................$2,500
Mechanics & Traders Insurance Co.......................$2,500
Northern Insurance Co., New York.......................$2,500
Faneuil Hail Insurance Co., Boston.....................$2,500
Commercial Insurance Co., New York.....................$2,500
Glen Falls Insurance Co., New York.....................$2,500
Royal Canadian Insurance Co., Montreal.................$2,500
Atlantic Underwriters, Philadelphia....................$2,500
      Total $25,000
      The above sum is the fire insurance only, and as it covers the entire boat with all its equipment, furniture, machinery, etc., it will be seen that but a small portion of the amount will go to apply upon the loss. The boat is quite number of years old, but was during the past winter reconstructed as good as new, and judging from the price which the NORTHWEST brought at the time of her purchase the entire valuation of the RICE might be placed at $125,000. She is certainly one of the swiftest steamers upon the lakes, as she is also one of the very largest and most elegant, and her cabins had been fitted up in a style of unequalled magnificence.
      The RICE will be immediately sent to drydock for repairs, which seem likely to keep her out of commission two or three months, although Mr. Carter was sanguine enough to declare last evening that he would have her again upon the line within six weeks. Meanwhile, a telegram was immediately sent to Cleveland and the large and elegant steamer PEARL engaged to temporarily take her place, leaving port at the usual hour this evening. In one thing is there cause for congratulation--that the fire took place at the dock, within easy reach of the Fire Department, and not miles from shore during the long and stormy voyage which the vessel accomplished only a few hours previous.
      Detroit Tribune
      Monday, Jume 11, 1877

      . . . . .

      R. N. RICE BURNED.
      Her Cabin Destroyed By Fire At Her Dock In Detroit.
      The Steamer PEARL To Take Her Place In The Line.
      Detroit, June 10. - A fire occurred on board the steamer R. N. RICE about 9:30 o'clock this evening, as she lay at her dock at the foot of Shelby street, and before the fire department could extinguish the flames both cabins had been entirely destroyed. Mr. Carver, agent of the line, places the total loss at $40,000, and states that the cabins cost $25,000 alone, exclusive of their equipments. The trouble, it appears, originated from the bursting of a kerosene lamp in the after cabin. The machinery can, to a great extent, be saved, and the hull came out of the ordeal all right. The fire insurance on the vessel was distributed among the following companies: Detroit Fire & Marine, $5,000; Meridian, Connecticut, $2,500; Merchants' & Traders, New York, $2,500; Faneuil Hall, Boston, $2,500;Commerce of New York, $2,500; Glen Falls, of New York, $2,500; Royal Canadian, of Montreal, $2,500; Atlantic Underwriters, Philadelphia, $2,500; Total $25,000. This sum, of course applies to the whole boat, machinery, and all, her entire value being about $125,000. The steamer PEARL, of Cleveland, has been engaged by telegraph to take her place on this line between here and Cleveland until she can be repaired, an operation which the agent hopes to have done in about six weeks.
      Cleveland Herald
      Monday, June 11, 1877

      . . . . .

      The work of repairing the stm. R.N. RICE, which lies at the old Northern Transportation wharf, has not yet commenced. Yesterday J.J. Shepard, of Cleveland, E.C. Johnson, Michigan City, Indiana, Capt. Joseph Nicholson, J.C. Burton, with Mr. Carter, of this city, were engaged in computing the value of the furniture destroyed. This morning A. McVittie, of the Detroit Drydock Co., and Mr. Morris, foreman of Clark's Drydock, will make a survey of the amount of rejoiner work it will require to place her in her former condition. James W. Bartlett, of the Detroit Locomotive Works, and Wm. Cowles, of the Detroit Drydock Co., will hold a survey on her machinery.
      The estimates of the above gentlemen will probably be completed by tomorrow evening when the work of rebuilding will begin at one of the drydocks. On further examination it is found that the fire could not have originated in the lamproom as first reported, as that part of the steamer is almost entirely free of damage. It is now believed that it started in the steerage where the deck hands bunked.
      The engine it is believed has escaped serious damage, although a number of rods and braces of the frame are warped.
      Steam was got up in the forenoon to ascertain if the cylinders had been cracked by the heat. The tests failed to show any flaws and it is thought they are comparatively uninjured.
      The immense heat to which the engine was subjected is illustrated by the fact that over 200 pounds of melted brass has been gathered up which formerly did duty on the ends of the walking beam and other parts of the machinery.
      The signal bell, which weighed about 75 pounds and hung under the walking beam, was melted in two so that the lower part fell on the engine below.
      That the fire was stayed, after having gained the headway it did, is invariably spoken of by the large number who visit the RICE as exceedingly remarkable. For this the ferry boat FORTUNE and EXCELSIOR are entitled to great praise, and to them and the Fire Department Capt. McKay expresses his thanks.
      Detroit Free Press
      June 13, 1877
      . . . . .

      Since the burning of the R.N. RICE on the 10th, instant the Detroit & Cleveland Steamboat Line have been in doubt whether they would rebuild the burned boat or not. To place the RICE in as good a condition as before the fire it will require at least $45,000 and then she would not be exactly the steamer desired by the company. The business of this time requires a steamer modeled for speed and one that can take on a large deck load, very little of the freight transported by these boats being consigned to the hold.
      Although not yet an established certainty, the company are planning to construct a steamer which will be ready for the route next spring, and one that will make the trip from Detroit to Cleveland in 6 1/2 hours. Should they carry out the above plans the RICE will be transformed into a barge, her hull being in a perfect condition.
      In the meanwhile negotiations are pending to secure the stm. SAGINAW to run during the remainder of the season in consort with the NORTHWEST.
      The SAGINAW is now running from Cleveland to Port Stanley, and a dispatch from her to D. Carter, at this port, received yesterday, stated she would come provided her present captain and engineer be retained.
      Detroit Free Press
      June 17, 1877

      . . . . .

The managers of the Detroit & Cleveland Steamboat Co. have finally decided not to rebuild the R.N. RICE, and the hull of that steamer will probably be sold or converted into a barge.
They have also determined upon building a new steamer, probably at this port which is to be ready for business with the opening of next season. The size and model of the proposed steamer have not yet been decided upon.
      Detroit Free Press
      June 20, 1877

      . . . . .

INSPECTORS' REPORT. - The local inspectors of steamboats, who have been making investigations in regard to the burning of the steamer R. N. RICE, have submitted the following report to Capt. P. J. Ralph, Supervising Inspector of the Eighth District:
We have spent considerable time investigating this case, and from the evidence before us we are of the opinion that the fire originated in the steerage aft, below the main deck. The steerage was not used for passengers. There were some five or six staterooms opening from the steerage, and it was in one of the rooms where the fire started. It was but a few minutes before the hall and stairs leading to the steerage were in flames, and the ladies cabin aft on the main deck, and almost at the same instant the upper cabin was in flames. The hull of the steamer is not injured, but her cabins are nearly all burned off. The damage including the machinery, is estimated at $42,000. We are pleased to state that there was no loss of life. Every effort was made to save the steamer. The hand fire pumps on board were used. The steamers (ferry boats) FORTUNE and EXCELSIOR were soon alongside, and
rendered good service with their steam pumps, and upon the arrival of the city fire engines, they together saved the steamer from total destruction. Much credit is due to Capts. Campbell and Horn, of the ferry boats, also to the fire department for their prompt action and good management during the time the boat was on fire.
The R. N. RICE was one of the largest sidewheel steamers on the lakes and was well equipped in every particular. She was built at Detroit in 1866, and cost $180,000. Her register is 1,096 tons, and she has been used exclusively in the trade between Detroit and Cleveland since she was built.
      The examination made by the same board of the steam tug Wm. H. PRINGLE on St. Clair River, May 31, establishes the fact that the fire originated in the coal bunker alongside the boilers. The hull of the tug was not materially injured, but the upper works are entirely destroyed. The Wm. H. PRINGLE was a large, powerful tug, built at Saginaw, Mich., in 1871, of 213 tons, and commanded by W. H. Littleton. The loss is estimated at $7,000.
      Detroit Tribune and Advertiser
      July 2, 1877

Steam Paddle R. N. RICE. U. S. No. 21191. Of 1096 tons gross. Built Detroit, Mich. 1867. First home port, Detroit, Mich. DISPOSITION:-- Rig changed to a schooner October 6, 1877.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S. A.
      The Lytle-Holdcamper List, 1790 to 1868

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Lives: nil
Hull damage: $40,000
Cargo: included
Freight: misc.
Remarks: Rebuilt as barge
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.33143 Longitude: -83.04575
William R. McNeil
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R. N. Rice (Steamboat), U21191, fire, 10 Jun 1877