A boater stops to view the Harlow Loran shipwreck in the Middle Channel.

A boater stops to view the Harlow Loran shipwreck in the Middle Channel.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Walczy


Lake St. Clair shipwrecks hold untapped history

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published August 5, 2022

 An aerial shot from a drone shows the Harlow Loran and its full 154-foot length.

An aerial shot from a drone shows the Harlow Loran and its full 154-foot length.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Walczy

 The Stimson and Spademen are two of the four shipwrecks on the west side of Russell Island.

The Stimson and Spademen are two of the four shipwrecks on the west side of Russell Island.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Walczy

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — It’s not even a thought for most boaters who venture out into Lake St. Clair whether they’re a few hundred, or even 50 yards away from history.

Dating back to its founding designation in 1679, Lake St. Clair, which contains over 430 square miles of freshwater, is home to some of the most historic vessels to ever make way on the lake.

“It was a gateway to all of the upper lakes,” Capt. Luke Clyburn said. “Prior to the population of people coming in in the 1700s, it was a pathway. People don’t realize the population that came through here.”

Clyburn, who runs the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Great Lakes Division, has worked with cadets on diving and discovering anything within the Great Lakes.

While cadets work on everything from engineering reports to rescue diving, locating shipwrecks has been a part of the training, as well.

Clyburn said the expressions on his cadets’ faces makes it all worth it.

“That’s what makes it exciting and makes you want to do it,” Clyburn said. “All these kids want to dive on a 100-foot shipwreck.”

One of those shipwrecks is in the Middle Channel, which Trevor Walczy has made popular on his Lake St. Clair Facebook page, has amassed over 40,000 followers.

His love of history was passed on to him by his grandfather, who ventured out to the Middle Channel shipwreck with Walczy when he was younger.

“I remember jumping in the water and then hurrying back into the boat,” Walczy said laughing.

The vessel known as the Harlow Loran is located toward the western end of the Middle Channel. The 154-foot wooden steam barge was commissioned from 1891-1926 before being sunk as a breakwall in 1926.

On a clear day, a boater can see the Harlow Loran sit about four feet below the surface.

Walczy tracks down these wrecks by flying his drone over the lake, which have made for some eerie yet breathtaking photos.

“When you fly the drone out and come across something down there, that’s the wow factor,” Walczy said.

Another location that has gained popularity is the graveyard of shipwrecks in Algonac.

On the west side of Russell Island sit four vessels known as the Stimson, Spademen, The Champion and Itasca.

According to a July 17, 1903, issue of the Port Huron Daily Times, the Spademen and The Champion were both submerged after a steel steamer named Bunsen collided with each of them. No lives were lost on each vessel, and both remain visible to this day.

Other shipwreck locations include the 126-foot H. Houghten vessel, which was burned in 1926 after being first built in 1889, on the Sni Bora, and the Detroit shipwreck graveyard on the Detroit River, near Stony Island.

“The eeriest part, too, is there’s hundreds of shipwrecks throughout the water,” Walczy said.

Outside of shipwrecks, the “sunken town” of Belvidere remains a tragic yet historical piece of the past on, or under, Lake St. Clair.

According to the Lake St. Clair Facebook page, the town of Belvidere was submerged by a peak of floods that rose to six feet in 1838. The water slowly backtracked, but a steamboat in 1882 caught fire and burned what was left.

“It was one of the first settlements,” Clyburn said. “The community of Belvidere is one of the first recorded in history.”

As Lake St. Clair’s boat traffic ramps up, the history of vessels that traveled the lake before will continue to remain below the waters.

The Lake St. Clair Facebook page is facebook.com/LakeStClairr.