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Alpena is missing a key piece to its history

May 6, 2012
The Alpena News

Since the early 1800s Thunder Bay, soon to be known as Alpena, has been a busy maritime port. In the early 1900s, Huron Portland Cement and Wyandotte Chemical started running ships out of their loading docks while the last of our virgin pine was leaving via the Thunder Bay River. Maritime was the blood and commerce that created and sustained the "Town That Wouldn't Die."

We have just about every description of shipwreck littering the lake bottom around here but lack floating examples of the vessels that made Alpena.

I was excited to hear, when we were rebuilding the marina that the inclusion of a freighter was being considered along its breakwall, much like the Valley Camp in Sault Ste. Marie. Those attempts were stifled with the uncertainty and the change of ownership of the cement plant.

I heard about latter attempts to save the E.M. Ford from the scrap yards of Spain, then attempts to preserve her meticulously maintained engines to no avail. Then the S.T. Crapo, a vessel built for and never used for anything else other than Alpena's cement transportation slipped away. Now we have a third chance, the group, The Great Lakes Steamship Society (, is trying to rescue the J.B. Ford from the scrap yards torches. I am not aware of the details that may stymie another attempt but three locations exist that could house the J.B., one is what has been known as the west dock behind Joe's Bar, and the other is the old Fletcher Paper Company Docks and the third along the river by the Post Office. Let's see what we can do about pulling together and saving a piece of our history instead of more infighting, three strikes and we're out.

Joseph Sobczak




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