Things to Know About Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast

A diver swims over the two-masted schooner, Walter B. Allen. Photo credit: Tamara Thomsen/Wisconsin Historical Society


On June 22, 2021, six years after receiving community support for its nomination, NOAA announced the designation of Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The newest site in the National Marine Sanctuary System, Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast is only the second sanctuary in the Great Lakes region and the third freshwater sanctuary. Here are some four fast facts about America’s newest marine protected area: 


  • Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary protects a nationally significant collection of cultural resources. Thirty-six known shipwrecks and fifty-nine suspected shipwrecks are located within the sanctuary’s boundaries. 


  • The state of Wisconsin boasts more individually listed shipwrecks on the National Register of Historic Places than any other. Twenty-one of the thirty-six known wrecks in the sanctuary are listed on the Register.


  • The sanctuary includes Wisconsin’s two oldest known shipwrecks – the schooners Gallinipper (built 1833, sank 1851) and Home (built 1843, sank 1858). Gallinipper was discovered in 1994 by a commercial fisherman who snagged nets on the previously unidentified wreck. Home was a trade ship that carried grain, lumber, and general merchandise between Lake Erie and the upper Lakes. The Home’s captain James Nugent was a known abolitionist and collaborator on the Underground Railroad. 


  • Thanks to the cold, fresh water in Lake Michigan, many of the sanctuary’s shipwrecks are well preserved as are the archaeological contents within them. One example is the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons, also known as the Christmas Tree Ship. She was built in 1868 and sank along with her captain and crew in 1912 as she carried Christmas trees destined for port in Chicago. 


To learn more about Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, visit


The schooner Home, is one of the oldest shipwrecks discovered in Wisconsin. Photo credit: Tamara Thomsen/Wisconsin Historical Society