Sleeping Bear Dunes / Frankfort Michigan
The Summer of 2003 we ran across a wooden underwater structure off Elberta Beach / Frankfort Mi. I had been in the area many times before but have never seen this structure before. I was looking for info on what we found and got my answer from park ranger Bill Herd from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Click here to learn about the wreck.
Boat for Sale!


Hello Brent,
What a great find and a good view from the surface. What you found is a
part of a shipwreck. You can tell a ship from a land structure that has
fallen into the water (such as a dock or breakwall) because ships are
curved with very little if any straight lines. Also ship have iron
fasteners every few inches. From the pictures in is not possible to tell
what ship or even what kind of ship it is and often you can not tell this
even with close underwater inspection.

What you found is the ribs and hull planks and some of the interior
flooring of a wooded ship most likely a sailing vessel. If I had to make a
guess I would say it is part of the J.H. Hartzell which wrecked near this
spot in the 1880's. The U.S. Life-Saving Service from Point Betsie saved
most of the crew in one of the service's most famous and difficult rescues.
A local film maker made a film re-enactment of the rescue which is
available on video. It is called the Wreck and Rescue of the J.H. Hartzell.
In the past the local video stores have had a copy or other folks around
the area may have a copy. If you can not find it, the Lakeshore can let
you borrow a copy.

I often swim and snorkel at Elberta beach but I have not seen this wreckage
at least not out that far. Wreckage sometimes moves around with the storm
surge and I have see other similar pieces farther to the south and nearer
the shore. I would like to get a more detailed description of the location
so that I might find it next summer.

There is a lot of information on the internet about the wreck and the
rescue of the Hartzell.

Thanks for letting me know about it.
Bill Herd
Park Ranger
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

This is what I found online about the wreck-

On October 16, 1880, the schooner J.H. Hartzell, carrying 495 tons of iron-ore from L'Anse to Frankfort, was wrecked about a mile south of Frankfort harbor. The rescue of all but one of the crew (the female cook) by the Point Betsie Life-Saving is movingly detailed in the 1881 Annual Report of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. The account is also included in Frederick Stonehouse's Wreck Ashore: The United States Life-Saving Service on the Great Lakes; that author emphasizes the great contributions to the rescue by the townspeople, in support of the professional crew.

The difficulties which frequently confront the life-saving crews on the lakes are illustrated by the circumstances attending the wreck of the schooner J. H. Hartzell near Frankfort, Lake Michigan, October 16, 1880.

The vessel anchored off Frankfort at 3 o'clock in the morning, the captain deciding to wait for daylight before attempting to enter the harbor, but at about 6 o'clock the wind suddenly shifted to the south-west and began to blow a whole gale, accompanied with fierce squalls of rain, snow and hail. The captain's belated effort to run into the harbor proved futile, and his vessel refused to mind her helm. Both anchors were dropped but she was soon borne down by the gale to the middle bar where she grounded, about 300 yards from shore and directly in front of a range of precipitous sand bluffs known as Big and Little Bald Hills. The seas began to crash over her, and two hours later all hands had found refuge in the rigging -- six men and one woman cook.

A little boy in Frankfort observed the vessel plunging in the breakers, and informed several persons, who ran to the bluff. They were powerless to render aid, but a messenger had been dispatched for the life-saving crew, and to encourage the shipwrecked people, they built a fire, and lay large pieces of driftwood upon the face of the cliff, so as to form in huge black letters upon the white sand the comforting words "LIFEBOAT COMING."

The Point Betsey life-saving station was 10 miles distant. It received information of the disaster at eight o'clock, and a few minutes later was on its way to the scene. The way to reach the wreck was by a circuit through the woods, crossing the river in the rear of Frankfort, and thence on to the beach. The beach when reached was found to be submerged by a swashing flood that beat against the bluffs, and carried on its surface a mass of crashing logs, stumps and trees, making that route wholly impassable. Another way led through thick woods, along deep winding ravines, and over steep, soggy sand hills. The load which the horses and men had to draw weighed over 1,000 pounds. At about half past ten the life-savers reached the base of the ridge of high hill which separated them from the point where the Hartzell lay. The rugged way led up the precipitous hills amid dense woods so steep that the men and horses had almost to climb and hoist the cart after them. A number of citizens joined the life-savers, and with their aid, making a total of 27 men, it was all that they could do to reach the summit, getting ahead only about 20 feet at a time.

New obstacles rose at every turn. They found themselves in a heavy, unbroken wood, filled with underbrush and fallen trees half buried in the sand. Axes and hand spikes came into play, while groups of men with bare hands tore away the underbrush and heaved at the prostrate trees. The bluff, finally reached, was nearly 300 feet high, composed of loamy sand, which was driven into the faces of the men at intervals, almost blinding their eyes, and away below them and far from the shore, which was lashed by the awful sea, lay the forlorn wreck, her hull submerged and her swinging masts reeling, while in and below the cross-trees were to be seen the storm-swept sailors with the one woman in their midst.

From the place where the life-savers stood, rescue was plainly impossible. Below them at the foot of the almost perpendicular bluff was the dashing surf with not an inch of standing room. Two hundred and fifty feet below, the keeper thought he could perceive a little shelf-like place where the apparatus might be worked. The lines were instantly attached to the apparatus cart, and the crowd begun to lower away, the surfmen plunging their heels into the soft sand and sliding down with it, some going head-foremost and all covered with sleet and sand and mud. Once on the little plateau, the gun was fired and the rescue began.

About noonday the line was in possession of the sailors, and a little later the lifecar was run out to the wreck. When nightfall was at hand, the entire crew were rescued, except the woman, who, it was asserted by the rescued men, had perished.


Detail : Bound for Frankfort from L'Anse, she dragged anchor and was driven into the shallows in the "ALPENA Storm." Her crew was rescued from the rigging by Pt. Betsey Lifesaving Service crew, except for the stewardess, who died in the foremast trees.

Build info : 1863, H. J. Williams, Buffalo

Specs : 252 t.

Date of loss : 1880, Oct 16

Place of loss : 1 mi S of Frankfort, MI

Loss of life : 1 of 8

Carrying : iron ore