Her Saloon is superbly fitted and furnished and the accommodations for steerage passengers on the main deck are unsurpassed.
May 20, 1846
Between 1844-1857, "palace steamers" ruled Great Lakes transportation. About half of European immigrants bound for Wisconsin travelled by steamer. Large and luxurious, palace steamers carried passengers between major Great Lakes ports, and stopped at many Wisconsin coastal towns.
Built in 1846, the 245-foot Niagara embodied the cutting edge of maritime engineering. Capable of speeds up to 15 miles per hour, the Niagara could carry several hundred passengers and large cargos.
As larger, faster steamers eclipsed the Niagara, the ship was transferred to less prestigious routes.
The Niagrara spent its final season travelling between Collingwood, Ontario and Chicago.
At 2:30 pm, September 23, 1856, Niagara left Sheboygan for Port Washington. At 4:00 pm, fire broke out and moments later, the engine stopped, leaving the ship stranded. Facing smoke and flames, the passengers panicked.
Despite rescue efforts, at least 60 people died, most from drowning while frantically boarding lifeboats.
The Niagara fire remains one of Wisconsin's worst transportation disasters.
Today, the Niagara offers divers an underwater museum of mid-19th century maritime technology including the huge iron engine, boilers and hull. This 3,000 pound anchor came from the Niagara and was placed here prior to laws that now protect underwater sites.
The Niagara is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ship wreck artifacts in Wisconsin are protected by law.