Kaleidoscope: Two vessels, mill among Toledo area attractions

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

During a pleasurable Memorial Day weekend trip to Toledo, I had the opportunity to examine a mode of transportation -- water -- which featured contrasting types of vessels.

One is a giant freighter -- 617 feet long and made of iron -- which once plied the waters of the Great Lakes, and the other is a 76-foot-long wooden boat which travels a short stretch of the former Miami & Erie Canal.

The James M. Schoonmaker steamship was launched in 1911 by the Shenango Furnace Co. to haul freight, and for several years was the largest such vessel on the Great Lakes.

The Volunteer is a replica canal boat owned by Metroparks Toledo, on which visitors to Providence Metropark outside the small town of Grand Rapids can take a one-hour trip pulled by two mules.

THE SCHOONMAKER

Now moored a few blocks from the Maumee River's outlet into Lake Erie, the Schoonmaker is an impressive part of the new $12 million National Museum of the Great Lakes.

Since 1953, the museum was on Lake Erie in Vermilion. I visited it about three years ago. Because the building was not big enough to house all the Great Lakes Historical Society's exhibits and artifacts, the new Toledo site was picked.

About three years ago during a trip to Toledo, I viewed the Schoonmaker -- then known as the Willis B. Boyer -- down river a short distance from its current location, but it was not open for tours.

The Schoonmaker became the flagship of the Shenango Furnace Co. and set many records for hauling iron ore, grain and coal. She was sold to Interlake Steamship Co. in 1969 and to Cleveland Cliffs in 1973, then was retired in 1980.

After setting idle for seven years in Toledo, it was bought by the city of Toledo and opened as a museum ship at International Park. The ship has a beam of 64 feet, a depth of 34 feet and 17 hatches on its deck, with carrying capacity of 15,500 gross tons.

Soon after I saw her the first time in 2011, she was rechristened with her original name and Shenango fleet colors, and was towed to the new site in October 2012.

The self-guided tour takes about an hour, and there's a lot of walking and climbing / descending narrow metal stairways.

But visitors have access to just about every nook and cranny, including the cargo hold, crew and officer quarters, mess hall and kitchen, engine room, guests' quarters and pilothouse.

The latter is unique in that the ship was one of the few on the Great Lakes to have twin steering wheels. The starboard was the main wheel and the other was an auxiliary.

The five luxury guest suites, guest lounge and dining room below the pilothouse in the bow also were amenities that most lake freighters did not have.

Looking out the pilothouse's front windows provides a view north toward the Interstate 280 bridge over the Maumee River. The Cherry Street drawbridge is to the south. The crew and officer quarters, mess hall and kitchen are in the stern above the engine room.

While I was aboard the ship, a freighter which appeared to be slightly smaller than the Schoonmaker headed down river. The day before I toured the ship, I was delayed 15 minutes when the drawbridge opened and closed while I was crossing.

GREAT LAKES MUSEUM

The new museum boasts dozens of interesting exhibits. They are laid out much nicer than in the old, cramped quarters.

The museum, which is about three or four blocks down Front Street from the original Tony Packo's sausage restaurant, opened in April. It features artifacts, short videos and interactive displays.

Sections deal with lake safety and rescue measures, the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie -- including a piece of the frame from Col. Oliver Hazard Perry's USS Niagara -- lighthouses and weather on the lakes.

Shipwrecks are covered -- there have been about 8,000 on the lakes, including the Edmund Fitzgerald -- and films show how freighters were loaded and unloaded. I especially enjoyed one of Hulett ore unloaders in action.

The tour starts with a six-minute orientation film about the Great Lakes. Several models of historic freighters and a life raft recovered from the Fitzgerald wreck site are displayed.

I watched as a teenage girl tried her hand at a computer-simulated exploration of the wreck site, one of several interactive displays. She manipulated a joystick to control an underwater submersible.

A small marina is situated beside the museum, and the Acme Power Station, which operated from 1918 to 1993, was across the parking lot. It was torn down in 2013, but its three smokestacks still stand.

CANAL BOAT, FLOUR MILL

Providence Metro-park in Wood County, where the Volunteer canal boat operates, is about 25 miles south of Toledo at the site of the old canal town of Providence.

The boat is moored at the north end of the park. A little further south is Lock 44, which is adjacent to the Isaac Ludwig Mill, a working water-powered saw and grist mill which still operates. Down river a little further is the Providence Dam.

The Miami & Erie Canal once ran 249 miles between Toledo and Cincinnati, and the canal boat operates on an original section. The dam was built to keep the canal filled with water.

The mill was built in 1849 by Isaac Ludwig, a boat builder from Pennsylvania, and was acquired in the 1880s by Augustine Pilliod, who modernized it and added 25 feet to the existing building.

In 1908, Pilliod installed an electric generator, enabling the mill to supply electricity for the mill and surrounding area. Toledo Edison took over the mill in 1918, and it later was acquired by the Heising family.

In 1940, fire destroyed the upper part of the second level and the roof, and the building was rebuilt as it now exists. Flouring operations ceased with the fire, the old machinery was replaced and the business became a feed mill.

It closed in 1972, and Ludwig's great-grandson purchased and donated it to Metroparks Toledo. Restoration began in 1974, and the primary power source is now two turbines installed in the 1940s.

Water from the canal flows into the penstock and drops through the turbines, which turn the shaft and transfer energy via gears and belts to drive the sawmill and stones. The spent water exits into the river on the other side.

A steam engine made in 1890 in Erie, Pa., is used as an alternative power source.

Visitors can watch the milling process and purchase products made there, including whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, yellow cornmeal, rye flour, rye bran and buckwheat flour.

A lot of old machinery is housed on the three levels of the mill, including boilers, buhrstones, a sifter using silk screens, centrifugal reel, water wheels, water pumps, belts, pulleys and gears.

The old equipment is said to be some of the most exquisitely preserved milling machinery on display in the U.S. It's fascinating to walk through the building.

TOWN OF GRAND RAPIDS

Expecting to see no activity in Grand Rapids late on Sunday morning, I was surprised to find a lot of cars parked on the main street. With two restaurants open in the main block, a lot of people were enjoying breakfast or lunch.

I visited the Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shoppe, bought a two-dip cup of ice cream and enjoyed it on a sidewalk bench outside the business.

Later, I explored the 901-foot, four-span railroad bridge carrying a single track west across the river past the Ludwig Mill, and then north.

I followed the track a couple of blocks east of the bridge, where I came upon a surprising find -- an 0-6-0 steam locomotive with tender, a center-cab diesel switch engine and a boxcar, passenger car and caboose with peeling paint.

The rolling stock is owned by the Toledo, Lake Erie & Western Railway and Museum, an excursion line which operated on 10 1/2 miles of former Nickel Plate Road / Norfolk & Western track between Waterville and Grand Rapids until 2009. The line hopes to restart excursions eventually.

Earlier this year, the property where the rolling stock is situated was acquired to give the TLE&W its first true home base in its 45-year history.

A 14,000-square-foot car barn is on the property, and plans are to display several locomotives and rolling stock inside it and on three, 100-foot long sections of track, plus turn a small brick building into a gift shop / displays area.

I'll certainly keep an eye on the progress of the project, and hopefully can return when operations are consolidated and opened on the new site.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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