Return to Ships of John Gregory
The schooner Mary A. Gregory (US No. 90776) was built by John Gregory at Edgar M. Doolittle & Orville Olcott’s yard (located at 54 Charles St in 1874), Chicago, and was launched at 4:00 pm on May 18, 1875. She was a two masted schooner of 87 tons, 84.6 feet in length, 23.8 foot beam and drew only 6.6 feet of water with centerboard up, without cargo. The boat cost $7,000 to build. Despite the common superstition among sailors that ships named after a living person would not outlive their namesake, the ship was probably named after a niece of the builder, Mary A. Gregory of Amboy, IL. She relocated to Chicago after her marriage in 1870.
The vessel was built for Chicagoan Nathan Sanders, who was so proud at the launching he passed out ten cent cigars while dreaming of the profits he will be soon making. Mr. Sanders kept ownership for fifteen years and always took good care as it was reflected in the insurance ratings which never received a lower rating of A-2.
She was known for her hauling of lumber cargo from Michigan ports such as Cross Village, North Manitou Island, Hamlin Lake, Beaver Island among many others. She was usually manned by only two crewman plus the captain. Her record on the lake was good, having only capsized once in 1903.
At the turn of the century her ownership shifted to Michigan ports, usually owned by her master, and was well known from the Straits of Mackinac to St. Joseph.
C. H. Hackley and Mary A. Gregory (right)
Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1875
John Gregory is building a schooner at the shipyard of Doolittle & Olcott (once the Dry Dock Company’s yards) which he hopes to have ready for launching within a few weeks. She is all planked, and some painting have been done. The dimensions are about as follows: Length of keel, 115 feet; breadth of beam, 24 feet; depth of hold, 8 feet. Her cost when completed will have been about $10,000. She is intended to be used as a fishing schooner.
The Inter Ocean, May 3, 1875
Our New Vessel!
John Gregory, builder of the vessel now on the stocks at Doolittle & Alcott’s yard, takes no little pride in the craft, and claims that when complete she will be acknowledged to be a perfect beauty. And she probably will. The exact dimensions are: keel, 83 feet; length on deck, 90 feet; beam, 23 feet; hold, 7½ feet. She is planked with 3-inch plank outside, her clamps are 4 inches, and her bilge stretches 4 inches. She is to be fore and aft rigged. The foremast will be 60 feet, and the mainmast 68 feet, the topmasts 41 feet each. When completed the cost will have been a $8,000. It is hoped to have her ready for launching by May 10. Captain Nathan Saunders is the owner, who will put the new craft into the fishing business in Green Bay.
Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1875
The new schooner which has been in course of construction for some time past at John Gregory’s shipyard on the South Branch, near the Alton depot, will be launched this afternoon at 4 o’clock. Her dimensions are as follows: Keel, 12 feet 6 inches; Beam, 23 feet 4½ inches; Hold, 7 feet 4 inches.
She is intended for the fish trade in Green Bay, and is owned by Capt. Nathan Sanders, of nowhere in particular. Capt. Gregory refuses to disclose her name until the time of her launching. But this much may be revealed, that she will have the name of a lady. Can it be possible that her bachelor owner has a sweetheart after all?
Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1875
The new schooner which has been in course of construction at Gregory’s shipyard for some time past, and a description of which was given in yesterday’s Tribune, was successfully launched yesterday afternoon, in the presence of some 300 or 400 people. She was christened the Mary A. Gregory, after a niece of the builder.
Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1875
The new schr, Mary A. Gregory, lately finished at Gregory’s shipyard, came down the creek yesterday to ship her anchors. She will leave for Mackinaw to-day to engage in the fishing business.
Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1876
ON THE LAKE.
One small vessel, which has been in the fishing business, Mary A. Gregory was forced to make an unscheduled port in Chicago. Finding it impossible to make harbor, she came to an anchor outside, and weathered the night. Temperatures hit as low as 15 degrees below zero. The crew kept as warm as they could around the stove in the cabin, but they did not dare to go to sleep for fear of the vessel, capsizing, as it was nearly iced up, and was getting worst every hour. The noses and cheeks of the crew were frost-bitten, but otherwise showed no traces of the terrible experience they went through. Saturday morning she was sighted by the tug O. B. Green, which brought her to the dock near Rush street bridge, not being able to get further up the river, as the ice was too thick to break through. The Captain of the Gregory stated that he passed, Thursday evening, out on the lake, three schooners – one three-and-after, and two, fore-and-afters. He could not make out their names, but supposed them to be the schooners North Cape, Metropolitan, and Reindeer. It was reported at a late hour that one or two schooners had come into sight and the tug O. B. Green was sent out to get them, if possible. The tug McClellan was busy all day breaking up the ice in the main branch of the river, but made slow progress.
Inter Ocean, December 11, 1876
THE WINTER STORM ON THE LAKE.
The little schooner Mary A. Gregory arrived here at 1 o’clock on Saturday afternoon with 1,900 half-barrels of fish from Menominee. The captan reports the weather as very cold and boisterous, and a glance at the schooner satisfies all of any doubts in that direction. The vessel is covered with ice several inches in thickness, and is loaded down very heavily. She arrived outside at 7 o’clock on Friday night, but the weather was so thick the captain did not attempt to enter the city until the city tug O.B. Green, having sighted her, broke the ice in the river and went out and brought her inside. The captain says he has had enough for this season, and will get the schooner into winter quarters. He passed three schooners on the way up between Port Washington and Milwaukee, one of which answers the description of the North Cape, due here on Saturday. The three were coming along under lowered canvas, and were left in the wake as the Gregory spread all the canvas she had. The captain also reports that the schooners Lucy Graham, Ebenezer, Merchant, Graham Bros., and D.A. Wells are all coming here with fish from St. Martin’s and the islands on the north shore. The Gregory left Plumb Island at 9 o’clock Thursday morning.
Up to a late hour last night there were no additional arrivals. The propeller Menominee, of the Goodrich line, left last evening for Manitowoc.
Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1875
The new schr Mary A. Gregory, lately finished at Gregory’s shipyard, came down the creek yesterday to ship her anchors. She will leave for Mackinaw to-day to engage in the fishing business.
June 30, 1877
The large steam propeller Messenger US No. 16654) was damaged by fouling the Mary A. Gregory.
From Jacksonport, 14 Sept 1877
Captain Nate Sanders of the schooner Mary A. Gregory was buying fresh fish along this shore and shipping them packed in ice to Chicago. He was in port Monday and took 1800 pounds the days’ catch of P.G. Hibbard.
November 23, 1878
Mary A. Gregory lost her jib-boon by a gale in Lake Michigan.
October 2, 1880
The Mary A. Gregory was reported to be in the Chicago Company’s South Side dock for caulking.
Buffalo Evening News, December 2, 1890
The schooner Mary A. Gregory, ashore at Whitefish Bay, will not be released this fall.
June 1, 1896
The Mary A. Gregory collided with the all-steel passenger steamer Virginia (US No. 161654). A hole was punched in her, but was in no danger.
The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), October 20, 1925
The schooners Waleska, Mary A. Gregory and the scows Emily and Eliza are in port waiting for good weather to continue their trip.
Inland Seas, Spring, 1989, Volume 45, No. 1
Schooner’s Last Trip Began From Douglas
By Carl A. Norberg
Back in 1924, the slip alongside the rotting old Red Dock at the foot of Union Street in Douglas (Michigan) became a landmark in the final chapter of the sailing days on southern Lake Michigan.
Captain John Woltman, owner of the schooner Mary A. Gregory, bent on the the best of ancient canvas she owned, cast an experienced eye over the weatherbeaten standing and running rigging and with particular attention to the bilge pump, declared her ready to sail.
A small cargo of potatoes and local fruit was stowed in the hold by his two seamen, docking lines were cast off as the small tug put a strain on the tow line.
With mixed feelings, her master guided his craft past old Saugatuck, into the broad Kalamazoo River, passing a ripple away from the old sawmill city of Singapore buried beneath the sand dunes and out the “new” cut into Lake Michigan. Mainsail and foresail rattled up to their places aloft in cadence to a half-forgotten chantey. As the tow line was cast off, two headsails slid up the stays and she was bound for Chicago.
Captain Woltman fully realized that this was the last chapter for the Mary A. Gregory. Furthermore, he knew this was the swan song of his sailing career. He suspected, and rightly, that this was the last cargo to reach the port of Chicago under sail, and unbelievable contrast to the maiden voyage of his schooner in 1875 when 20,900 sailing vessels arrived and departed that port in a single season.
After discharging her cargo at South Water Street Market, she was towed up the north branch of the Chicago River and moored in the mud alongside of Abe Burrell’s Yacht Yard, where Captain Woltman became the foreman. it became well acquainted with the schooner here, which quickly became a haven for homeless sailors of the old school, who could spin endless yarns of Skillagalee, Beaver Island and the Straits.
But the old vessel was deteriorating rapidly so that in 1926 she was towed out into Lake Michigan, well off shore, for her last moments. Set to the torch, she was a vivid spectacle to only a half dozen old salts. When the charred embers slipped beneath the waves, the last vestige of commercial sail was gone from Chicago and Lake Michigan.
It is reported that she was not forgotten by the Chicago Historical ociety, which is said to have acquired her capstans, compass, figurehead, port and starboard running lights, megaphone and sternpost.
John Woltman, last owner of the Mary A. Gregory, was born in Holland, Michigan, in 1857, son of Captain Thomas Woltman, master of the Great Lakes schooners William Tell, Union Mary and Anteres. Young Woltman shipped aboard the Mary on her maiden voyage to Chicago with a cargo of lumber, in 1874.
Douglas, Michigan was the scene of the very last departure of an old sailing schooner in southern Lake Michigan. In this photograph the Mary A. Gregory is about to cast off for Chicago in 1924. She was definitely the last of her kind to enter that port.
After ten years of sailing he married Selma Sundman and made his home in Chicago. When he obtained his master’s papers in 1893, he purchased the schooner Wonder, of 39 tons, which a few months later was caught in a vicious late fall storm and on Nov. 29, with sails in ribbons and anchor dragging, was driven ashore seven miles south of Grand Haven. Farmers assisted the exhausted crew to safety. Undaunted, Captain Woltman saw the Wonder floated the following spring and once more he sailed her.
It was in 1875 when the new schooner splashed into the murky waters of the north branch of the Chicago River at John Gregory’s ship building yard. This is about a mile from Abe Burrell’s yard where she ended her days fifty years later. The vessel was built for Nathan Sanders, of Chicago, who was so proud at the launching he passed out ten cent cigars while dreaming of the profits he would make from his new vessel.
Not a sailor himself, he would have a captain and crew engaged in carrying lumber from the north woods ports to booming Chicago. Soon he would regain his investment of $7,000, which was the building cost. In the late ’70s and early 80s the freight earned to Chicago from Grand Haven was $1.25 per thousand board feet of lumber and $1.65 from Manistee. Lumber cargoes were always available and demand for lumber in Chicago unlimited. Sailor’s pay was .75¢ to $1 per day.
The Mary A. Gregory was a handy two-master of 87 gross tons, 84.6 feet in length, 23.8 foot beam and drew only 6.6 feet of water with centerboard up, without cargo. Always well cared for, insurance inspectors rated her A-1 and A-2 even in 1895. Mr. Saunders sold her in 1893 and for some time she loaded barreled fish from northern Wisconsin waters to Milwaukee and Chicago. At the turn of the century her ownership shifted to Michigan ports, usually owned by her master, and was well known from the Straits of Mackinac to St. Joseph.
As lumber and cedar posts became scarce at the great sawmill ports like Manistee and Muskegon, our schooner found cargoes at anchorages such as Port Village, North Manitou Island, Hamlin Lake, Beaver Island and innumerable small piers requiring risky and skilled vessel handling, always without benefit of tow boats. Her curse was common ton all schooners—that of too small a crew. She usually carried two men besides the captain, once in a while one more or less. In heavy weather and close quarters they always needed more hands, but in fifty years of constant sailing, often in late fall, or evading ice floes in the spring, she had a good record. Only once, 1903, did she capsize, when four men were swept to their death in a strong gale. In 1907 she stove a hole in her bottom anchored off Boris Blanc Island in the Straits, loading cedar posts.
In late summer and early fall her captain-owner often became an inter-island trader, peddling fruits and vegetables from the mainland. When Captain Woltman bought her in 1912 he continued to seek a few extra dollars in this manner for his wife and four daughters back in Chicago.
Records of the Life Saving Service and Coast Guard show only a few minor assists to the schooner, so well was she handled in spite of depleted rigging and an aging hull. On December 3, 1913, truly a late month to be sailing, but still seeking a few more dollars before winter lay up, Captain Woltman loaded potatoes at the Sands and Maxwell Waterhouse in Pentwater. The marine recorder of the Lexington Chronicle wrote “These vessels, which once lined the docks almost continuously, are seldom seen in Pentwater nowadays.”
As a postscript to our story of the Mary A. Gregory’s final trip in 1924, there still remained on Lake Michigan three old schooners. They were Lucia A. Simpson (US No. 140097), carrying cedar posts to Milwaukee, The City of Grand Haven (US No. 33869), a two master, and Our Son (US No. 19437), a three master, both carrying pulpwood logs to Muskegon. By Sept. 30, 1930, all three were gone—forever.
The Owners of the Mary A. Gregory
- 1875 – 1890: Nathan Sanders, Chicago, IL
1891 – 1892: Frank Brown, Milwaukee, WI
1892 – 1893: F. E. Lennox, Manitowoc, WI
1893 – 1896: P. Lamere, et all., Jacksonport, WI
1893 – 1900: T. Olson, Washington Island, WI
1902 – 1902: Martin Mickelson
1901 – 1901: Olaf Olsen
1902 – 1903: Olaf Olson, Frankfurt, MI
1905 – 1906: D. D. Ludwig, Benton Harbor, MI
1907 – 1909: Eliza J. Ludwig, Benton Harbor, MI
1910 – 1911: William W. Preston, Benton Harbor, MI
1912 – 1926: J. H. Woltman, Chicago, IL
It seems in 1901 the owners of the Mary A. Gregory and the G. W. Westcott (US No. 10335) swapped ships.
The Mary A. Gregory has the distinct honor to be the last commercial sailing vessel to arrive in Chicago. The Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) has the following artifacts from her in their collection:
- 1) Bow Sprit and Prow Ornament, carved with eagle head, secured from the Mary A. Gregory built on Goose Island in 1875 – the last of the Great Lakes Schooners. This object is currently on display in the museum’s “Crossroads” exhibition.
2) Stentorn Megaphone from the Mary A. Gregory, c. 1900. This object is currently on display in the museum’s “Crossroads” exhibition.
3) Set of Seven Caulking Chisels (used to drive caulking between planks) on the Mary A. Gregory. Traditional caulking (also spelled calking) on wooden vessels uses fibers of cotton, and oakum (hemp fiber soaked in pine tar). These fibers are driven into the wedge shaped seam between planks with a caulking mallet and a broad chisel-like tool called a caulking iron. The caulking is then covered over with a putty in the case of hull seams, or in deck seams with melted pine pitch in a process referred to as paying. These objects are currently on display in the museum’s “Crossroads” exhibition. The plaque reads:
“Set of seven steel caulking chisels used on the Great Lakes schooner Mary A. Gregory, c. 1900. Captain John Harry Woltman used these chisels on the schooner to drive caulk between the wooden planks of the ship. Some of the chisels have his initials ‘J.H.W’ inscribed on them.”
4) Lantern with Blue Glass from the Mary A. Gregory. This object is currently in museum storage.
5) Ship’s Lantern from the Mary A. Gregory. This object is currently in museum storage.
6) Starboard Marine Lantern from the Mary A. Gregory. This object is currently in museum storage.