Steamer that “Went Missing” 115 Years Ago is Located in Lake Superior

Great Lakes steamer
Adella Shores loaded with lumber (Photos and video courtesy of Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

Published May 3, 2024 8:08 PM by The Maritime Executive


The mystery of a wooden steamship that went missing 115 years ago on Lake Superior with 14 sailors onboard has finally been solved. After painstaking research, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) confirmed they had located the final resting place of the Adella Shores that was lost with all hands on May 1, 1909.

The 735-ton wooden steamer was built in Gibraltar, Michigan in 1894. Measuring 195 feet in length, she was owned by the Shore Lumber Company carrying cargoes ranging from lumber to salt on the Great Lakes. Named for the owner’s daughter Adella, the vessel had a troubled career sinking twice in 15 years in shallow waters in the lakes. Both times she was refloated and put back into service.

The Adella Shores departed for Duluth on April 29, 1909, with a load of salt never to be seen again. Wreckage was later found but no bodies were located and no witnesses saw her go down. Her final location was open to conjecture until researchers from GLSHS confirmed that she has been located more than 40 miles northwest of Whitefish Point in over 650 feet of water. They released video and photos on the 115th anniversary of her sinking.



Assembling the story of the Adella Shores, the historical society reports on May 1, 1909, the ship was following the larger steel steamship, Daniel J. Morrell, through a thick ice flow, with the Morrell plowing a path through the ice as they went. The Shores was more than two miles behind the larger vessel and out of sight as both ships rounded Whitefish Point where they encountered a fierce northeast gale. 

Captain Millen of the Morrell theorized the smaller steamship might have struck a large ice flow during the storm. He speculated that it punctured her hull, and she sank quickly with all 14 of her crew. A search found some debris but no other signs of the vessel, which was recorded in the history books simply as “went missing.”


(Section of the hull of the vessel)


The discovery of the steamer occurred by chance in 2021. GLSHS Director of Marine Operations Darryl Ertel and his brother Dan were towing the society’s marine sonic technology side-scan sonar system in a grid-like search pattern on the lake when they found a target. The society has been successful in locating many of the wrecks on the lakes.

“I pretty much knew that had to be the Shores when I measured the length of it because there were no other ships out there missing in that size range,” said Ertel. “As soon as I put the ROV (remote-operated vehicle) down on it for the first time, I could see the design of the ship and I could match it right up to the Shores.”

GLSHS spend years corroborating its findings with other historical records before announcing its discovery. They noted that the stories of the vessels lost on the lakes should be told with honor and respect, while noting it sometimes takes years to ensure that they are telling the story accurately.

(Cargo winch)