Dakota Datebook

Steamboat Selkirk

Thursday, October 25, 2012

 

In 1870, Alexander Griggs and James J. Hill conceived the idea of launching their own riverboat as a means of shipping goods along the Red River. With an investment of $5,000.00 they built the Selkirk. It was a sternwheeler, designed to navigate the narrow channels of the Red. It was estimated by the Grand Forks Plaindealer newspaper that during the seventeen years it operated, the Selkirk earned over five hundred thousand dollars.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon on this date in 1887, the Selkirk pulled away from the M. & N. Elevator in East Grand Forks and collided with the central pier of the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge. In an attempt to avoid further damage, it swung around but struck a pontoon creating such additional damage that it began sinking. A desperate attempt to get her into nearby boatyards failed. It became unmanageable and sank near the Walker Lumber Mill in eight feet of water. So badly was it damaged that the company decided to abandon the old vessel and began the removal of its boilers and any other salvageable equipment.

Eighty years later, in the summer of 1967, a young historian named Adrell Abrahamson, searching along the riverbed, found pieces of hardware from the wreck. Judging that the wreck was between Griggs and Hill Avenues, now known as Seventh and Eight Avenues North, he believed a scuba diver could locate the hull. He reasoned that the measurements and features extracted from the wreck could be used to build an exact replica to be used for excursions on the river.

But financing was hard to come by. While Mr. Abrahamson toyed with the idea, he was contacted by a group from Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin who wished to construct a replica of an 1898 steamboat named Appollo I, which had carried passengers through the Dells. Because financing was more available there, he moved to the Dells in 1968, but hoped to return someday and complete his dream. He had envisioned reviving the glory days on the Red, with the drumming of the steamboat engines, the shouting of the deck hands and the shrill whistle of a steamboat coming ‘round the bend. But that was not to be, and after one hundred and twenty-five years, the morning mist still drifts over the sunken remains of the grand old steamboat, the Selkirk.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune, October 25, 1967

The Grand Forks Weekly Herald October 27, 1887

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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