The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
J. L. Williams (Tug), fire, 9 May 1891

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Saturday afternoon the tug J.L. WILLIAMS burned nearly to the water's edge in Superior Harbor. The fire-boat DAVID SUTTON rendered assistance but too late to save the uper works and damage to the boat was heavy.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      May 11, 1891

Captain Byron B. Inman, head of the Inman fleet of tugboats operating at Duluth in the late 1800's, said he was saddened by the damage to the tug J.L. WILLIAMS after the vessel was swept by fire on May 9, 1891.
The J.L. WILLIAMS was my first tug here," Inman told the Duluth Daily News while looking over the fire-ravaged steamer. "She gave me my start and put me on my feet. I think more of her than of any other boat I have, although I have better in my fleet."
The fire started somewhere in the engine room, close to the boiler at 2:55 p.m. while the WILLIAMS and the tug BUFFALO were at work moving a barge across Duluth harbor. When first noticed by the fireman, the tug's skipper. Captain King, said the fire was confined to a small area. By the time the engineer was notified and the fire hose run out. the blaze was spreading out of control. So quickly did the frames spread through the tug that the engine room crew was driven from their posts before they had a chance to charge the fire hose. Captain King was forced to flee the pilot house minutes later.
The crew of the BUFFALO saw the fire and sounded an alarm, which was heard ail over Duluth harbor. It brought lots of help, including the fire tug SUTTON and the tug SAVIDGE, which had in tow a large steam powered pump mounted on a scow. Within minutes, the burning WILLIAMS was surrounded by harbor tugs, all of them pumping streams of water on the flames. It took about an hour to get the fire out. By then, the SAVIDGE's useful steam pump was busy pumping water out of the WILLIAM's scorched hull to keep the boat from sinking.
When it was over, the tug was extensively damaged. The deck frames. a large part of the port rail. the pilot house and much of the boat's interior furnishings were destroyed. Even the machinery was damaged by the heat.
Captain Inman did not let his favorite tug go to the scrap pile. He had the vessel rebuilt. It remained in service until 1937. (Article by James Donahue, weekly series run in paper.)
      Port Huron Daily Tribune
      April 15, 1996

Media Type:
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Reason: fire
Lives: nil
Remarks: Repaired
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Minnesota, United States
    Latitude: 46.78327 Longitude: -92.10658
William R. McNeil
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J. L. Williams (Tug), fire, 9 May 1891