Marc and Jill VanderMeulen will eventually have a “one of a kind” cottage. While some people work on ship models, Marc and Jill are working on the 120-ton steel forward end of the former Great Lakes steamboat, Lewis G. Harriman. Today the forward end peeks out from the cedar-lined DeTour shoreline, and looks like it is anchored in a secluded cove.  Actually it is installed on the lot next to the VanderMeulen’s summer home. It is the perfect place for an illustrious ship to retire, as it looks out at the downbound shipping lane.


Marc and Jill VanderMeulen will eventually have a “one of a kind” cottage. While some people work on ship models, Marc and Jill are working on the 120-ton steel forward end of the former Great Lakes steamboat, Lewis G. Harriman. Today the forward end peeks out from the cedar-lined DeTour shoreline, and looks like it is anchored in a secluded cove.  Actually it is installed on the lot next to the VanderMeulen’s summer home. It is the perfect place for an illustrious ship to retire, as it looks out at the downbound shipping lane.

The vessel sailed the Great Lakes from the time it was built, in 1923, until 1980. Originally named John W. Boardman, it was re-christened Lewis G. Harriman in 1965, when the National Gypsum Company purchased Huron Cement. The Harriman’s hull was used to store cement used in constructing the new Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in 1968. When they ran low, it would make a run down to Alpena to the cement elevator there to restock. LaFarge Corporation, the successor to its long-time owner Huron Cement Company, again used her for cement storage in 1980. In 1996, she became the property of Blue Circle Cement Company, as a storage hull in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Harriman was the first vessel built to haul cement in bulk. Before that cement was hauled in barrels or bags, and it was said to take 50 men a week to load a freighter with bags of cement. She was a hardworking ship for many years. In 2003 a newer and larger ship replaced her. With her usefulness at an end, the Harriman was sold to Purvis Marine Limited, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and towed there for scrap.

They gave tours of the Harriman, and allowed people to purchase parts of the ship before the VanderMeulens found her. The whistle pulls, telegraphs, compasses, and other items are gone, but Marc and Jill hope to replace them, along with their other restoration plans.

Marc was intrigued by the idea of salvaging a pilothouse. He saw a post on Boatnerd.com, telling where one could get a pilothouse. They toured the Quedoc, but finally settled on the Harriman.

At first their plan had been to take the pilothouse and Texas cabins, which include the captain’s quarters and guestrooms. Then it became obvious that it was less expensive to take more of the boat, due to the structural reinforcements that would have been required to separate the upper deck from the hull.

Originally the Lewis G. Harriman was 350 feet long, had a 55-foot beam, 28-foot depth and a 5,500-ton capacity. Today she is still 55 feet wide, but is only 60 feet long from bow to bulkhead and weighs 120 tons.    

Lake Huron isn’t the only Great Lake to boast such an interesting cottage. Lake Erie’s Middle Bass Island
has the forward end of a former laker installed there and is referred to as the Benson Ford cottage. This “cottage” proved valuable in gaining approval from  DeTour Village. Fitting the Harriman to their property required a zoning variance. The application led to a number of questions and eventually a meeting. The foundation for the hull began in late 2005.

But how does someone go about moving something like the severed forward end of a ship that weighs 120-plus tons? Terry and Marty Clement of Clement Brothers, Inc., house-moving services were hired. After the forward section was severed from the Harriman, it was loaded onto the barge Malden, with tug W.I. Scott Purvis in the lead and tug Martin E. Johnson following. They towed the barge through the MacArthur Lock on November 17, 2005 and then went to the Carbide Dock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to clear customs. The Purvis tug switched from towing to pushing and the Harriman floated down the St. Mary’s River to its new home, where the Clements began rolling it ashore on 50-ton rollers.

The rollers were square rubber mats with little wheels made out of hardened steel. We were told it was like putting roller skates under it. When they started to roll the ship onto the rollers, the steel pins holding the wheels started snapping. The steel beams that they were rolling the ship onto gave way under the weight and bent. No matter what bent or broke, there were lots of safety cables and an anchoring system, that held the ship in position. Progress was slow but always forward. To make the task more difficult, the Harriman had to be rolled uphill! Figuring out how to accomplish the task was daunting, and problems with the weather caused delays.  

The part of the Harriman sitting on the DeTour shore has approximately 5000 square feet. The lower level is where most of the space is, but Marc tells us it is dark with tiny portholes for light, and it is cold and damp. The top level is more desirable, and is about 1200 square feet. When visiting the site we found a work in progress. Jill and Marc were trying to decide how to divide the rooms up. For one thing they need to plan where to put a kitchen because the original galley was 300 feet back towards the stern, which is gone!  Also gone, as it was cut away, is the heat source. The boilers were also at the back end of the ship. However, the original steam radiators are still in place in the end purchased by Marc and Jill. Walls and insulation would have to be added in order to add heat, and they are not sure they want to change the look of the inside to do this, the 1923 original woodwork is part of the charm. Present plans are for the DeTour Harriman, to be restored as a summer cottage, and not used during the northern Michigan winters. This unique summer cottage may even be a unique bed and breakfast someday!   
   
Marc and Jill have spent endless hours since I first interviewed them in 2008 chipping, grinding, priming and painting. Much has been accomplished since a crowd gathered in DeTour in 2005 to watch as a barge delivered the Lewis G. Harriman to its new home on shore. Over the years folks watched the slow progress, as the hull was dragged and positioned, so that it hit the foundation at the boat’s old waterline.

The freighter’s original name, John W. Boardman, and logo were beautifully restored on the steel hull, which is now a dark green. The original name was chiseled into the steel hull when the boat was built, as had the Huron logo. This simplified repainting once the many coats of old paint had been removed. The Harriman name boards will be placed on the pilothouse once painting in that area is completed. With the upper structure returned to the original pristine white the boat appears much as she did from 1923 to 1965.

Marc and Jill have done all of the exterior painting, but have had professional help with the electrical, plumbing and welding. The “street side” of the structure needs to be painted but the lights work and the sewer and water service lines have been extended into the crawlspace. The Clement Brothers Ltd. (house movers) completed their work last summer when they poured a low concrete wall across the stern. The VanderMeulens will be installing more stone backfill and building retaining walls this year to finish the site work. They have barely begun work on the interior.    
What does the forward end of a great lake freighter cost? According the VanderMeulens, the cost of the Harriman was based on scrap value. If a prize were given for the area’s most unusual project, Jill and Marc would be the winners! We continue to follow their progress with interest.

Jill Lowe Brumwell divides her time between Drummond Island and Saginaw Township. She is the author of Drummond Island History, Folklore and Early People, Growing up on Drummond Island, Adventures With Jill, Gayle and Donny on Drummond Island and Drummond Island’s Part in the War of 1812. To purchase books or arrange speaking engagements, 989-792-1260 jlbrumwell@charter.net