The Hesper was a wooden-hulled, single propeller, triple-masted, freight-carrying steamship which towed schooner-barges. The steamer was one of several near-identical ships built for the large Bradley Transportation Company fleet of Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1890s. It was launched at the Ship Owners Dry Dock Company at the Radcliffe Yard in Cleveland on June 28, 1890. It was a double-decked bulk freighter measuring 250 feet in length and rated for about 2,700 tons capacity. The Hesper was issued its first certificate of enrollment at the Cuyahoga District Customs Office in Cleveland on June 30, 1890 by George A. McKay, deputy collector. That document listed the ship as a “propeller” with plain head and round stern. Enrollment certificates state that the vessel was 250.3 feet long, with a breadth of 41.6 feet and a depth of 20.2 feet. It measured 1,539.98 (net) tons. The Hesper's enrollment document of 1899 indicates that it was changed stating that it now had one deck, only two masts and measures 1570 tons, its 1893 enrollment (#81) being "surrendered by reason of change of description and tonnage." The enrollment also states it had "cabins forward Texas house and ships cabins aft" and that it has a dining room, kitchen and hallways.
At the time of Hesper's construction, the vessel's owners were undecided as to whether it should be called the “Hesper” or “Hesperus” (the latter having bad connotations relative to Longfellow's poem The Wreck of the Hesperus). When it was found that the name Hesper had been cut on its capstan, they kept the name. However, there is no difference in the meaning of the two words. Hesper is the evening star and in Greek mythology was a brother of Atlas, the father of the seven sisters known as the Hesperides, "who guarded the golden apples that Hercules obtained after a long fight." The Hesper had a reasonably uneventful career and was operated by the Bradley Fleet until it was lost in 1905. The vessel was always well cared-for and was considered an efficient ship.
During its career the Hesper was associated with the sinking of the Samuel P. Ely. According to Duluth News Tribune of Oct. 31, 1896, the ... Ely, in tow of the Steamer Hesper, left Duluth on Thursday about 11 o'clock in the forenoon. The steamboat had a load of wheat for Buffalo, but the schooner was light. They were bound for Two Harbors, where the Ely was to load ore. The strong head wind and heavy sea which she encountered made a slow voyage and it was after dark when the Hesper and her consort made the western breakwater, now under construction at Two Harbors. The sea was running mountains high and the Hesper, in heading for the slip between the ore docks, let go the towline of the Ely, or it parted under the strain. Whatever the case the Ely went adrift. She let go both her anchors, but they would not hold, and she dragged them and her toward the shore. It blew across the harbor onto the west breakwater under construction. The ship was pounded to pieces.
The Hesper was lost when it was caught in a late spring snow storm in 1905. The 60-mile-an-hour northeaster drove it well off its intended course and hurled the vessel on a reef which now marks the southwest edge of Silver Bay Harbor. The Hesper was lifted over the reef by a giant wave, after enduring a pounding for some time, only to founder and break up in 42 feet of water. The 15-man crew, along with Captain E.H. Heaton, remained aboard as long as there was any hope of saving their vessel. They launched two lifeboats and pulled away moments before it broke up.
Julius F. Wolff in Lake Superior Shipwrecks, 1990, reports the following testimony from a fisherman who witnessed the disaster: Before the hull slid off into the deep water her cabins and spars were washed off and the stack had also fallen. The deck came off after the boat went down and it is plain that she is badly broken up forward for her collision bulkhead came ashore. The steamer's steel tow line is holding the fantail deck which floats on the surface and another section of the deck is held by the shrouds. Parts of the wrecked vessel are distributed along the coast for a distance of 5 miles. The Duluth Evening Herald of May 5, 1905 described the abandonment and sinking of the Hesper: The boat went ashore shortly before daylight on the same reef upon which the Tampa foundered twelve years ago. The captain and members of the crew, sixteen in number, got ashore in lifeboats which they were able to launch on the "lee" side of the vessel, but they lost all their effects. The sea was so heavy that by noon the vessel was in pieces. The accident was due to the loss of her bearings, the vessel drifting out of her course in the heavy sea and wind. She was running light, coming up for a cargo of ore and was due in Duluth yesterday morning at 9 o'clock. After reaching shore, Captain Heaton wired that the crew had reached shore safely but the steamer was so badly pounded that it became a total wreck. At the time of its loss, the steamer was managed by Hutchinson & Company and was insured for $50,000. However, another reference states that it was valued at $80,000 at the time of its loss.
The well preserved wreck of the wooden-hulled steamer Hesper is located in approximately 30 to 48 feet of water. The wreck lies about halfway down the west breakwall of the Silver Bay Harbor and angles out towards the northeast. Its hull has split apart at the turn of the bilge; both its port and starboard sides situated adjacent and parallel to its ceiling-covered hull bottom. The forward end of its disarticulated port side is buried by large boulders of the Silver Bay jetty. The forward ends of both the base of the hull and the starboard side lie immediately adjacent to the boulders.
The flat base of the hull is comprised of the totally intact triple frame timbers composed of floors and futtocks which extend to the turn of the bilge. They have broken away from each side at the butt ends of their double futtocked frames. Room and space of the triple frames is 22 inches, the moulded dimension is 16.5 inches, the sided dimensions are 6 inches, 6 inches and 12 inches. The most prominent feature of the hull base is the large keelson which runs almost the entire length, ending at the aft engine mount. The keelson is composed of two parallel timbers which are each 14.5 inches moulded and 14.75 inches sided. A 3/4 inch thick by 14 inch high iron strap is bolted along either side of the keelson and runs its entire length. The base of the hull is covered over its majority by ceiling which is composed of two layers: the upper layer is 1 inch thick by 8 inches wide, the lower layer is 2 inches thick by 12 inches wide. Outer hull planks measure 4.5 inches thick by 12 inches in width.
The two hull sides, which are disarticulated from the hull base but which are intact, have similar construction characteristics. They both retain two rows of hanging deck knees and attached deck shelf timbers indicating the former location of the main and cargo decks. The decks no longer exist and were most likely part of the wreckage which washed ashore at the time of sinking. The bulwark rail is present on both hull sides for most of their respective lengths. Iron straps, similar to those which strengthen the keelson, are present on the sides immediately below the hanging knees. The starboard side has a hatch towards the aft while the port side has the remains of its condenser discharge pipe.
For the most part, the vessel is clear of wreckage debris except at the bow end, near the jetty. The forward end of the forecastle deck is located here along with various timbers and metal debris. At the aft end of the base of the hull is the engine mount, which is composed of a framework of very large timbers from which numerous 2 to 3 foot bolts project. These bolts with their threaded ends obviously were used to hold or mount the vessel's reciprocating engine to the hull. Aft of the mount is the base of the wooden propeller shaft housing. Lying adjacent to the starboard side of the housing on the clay floor of the lake is a capstan. Just aft of the shaft housing is the vessel's iron-reinforced wooden rudder with its tiller still attached. The rudder lies in 48 feet of water; the bow in 30 feet.Information provided by the Minnesota Historical Society.