Wreck of the America
In heavy fog on Sunday August 30, 1914, a San Juan Island legend began. Below the Hannah farm on the west side of San Juan Island, the America, a sailing ship turned barge ran aground on the rocky shore. Story and photo courtesy of the San Juan Island Historical Museum
The America was a three-masted full-rigged Down Easter built in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1874. The America hauled cargo from New York and Boston to the Far East until purchased by the James Griffiths Company in 1906. The ship was converted to a barge and plied the waters of Puget Sound until that fateful day in 1914.
The vessel was loaded with a shipment of coal and was being towed by the tug Lorne, when it hit the rocks and eventually sank. The Lorne was later salvaged.
By August of 1914, The Great War had started in Europe and Britain had recently declared war on Germany. Local legend has it that the America’s cargo of coal was intended to be offloaded to a German vessel waiting in the Haro Strait. Despite U.S. ties to Britain, someone had contracted to have a load of coal sold to Germany for their war effort.
In 1959 San Juan Island resident Roger Loring was the first person to dive on the wreck. He had heard stories of the wreck from his high school teacher, Ed Hannah, who was a young boy when he heard the ships hitting the rocks below his family farm years before.
Many artifacts were salvaged most notable being the rudder and figurehead. The rudder is on display here at the San Juan Island Historical Museum and the Columbia figurehead displayed at Rosario Resort on Orcas Island.
In 2010, the Hannah family donated several items from the America to the museum, including parts of the rigging and posts from the deck railing.
The true story of the destination of the cargo may never be known, but the legend of the America is forever ingrained in the historical fabric of San Juan Island.
On weekend's a historical photo is the photo of the Day and a link is provided to an issue of the 1914 San Juan Islander newspaper which was published from 1898 to 1914.