Muscle tug of the Great Lakes

Tugboat John PurvesOne of the featured exhibits at the Door County Marine Museum is the tugboat John Purves, which worked on the Great Lakes for many years. A tour of the restored boat, moored at the museum’s dock, is educational and fun, and a highlight of a visit to this resort area.

History of the tug

Built in 1919, the boat initially served as a floating navy radio station in the Caribbean , but soon made her way to the Great Lakes where she worked in a commercial fleet. During the second world war, she became a transport vessel and floating weather station for the army in the Aleutian Islands. AFter the war, she returned to civilian duty in the Great Lakes and was acquired by the Roen Steamship Company in 1956. Following upgrades in fuel and engine power, the Purvis was considered a workhorse of the company and was active on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway for many years. She was sold by Roen in 1974 and, after stints with various companies, was donated to the Door County Maritime Museum in 2003, where she was lovingly restored to her former appearance during the glory days with Roen.

Tugboat tourBob Desh in engine room

While the appointments of the John Purves make fascinating viewing even from the outside, you can almost hear the hum of the engines during a guided tour through the boat. Guides are knowledgeable about the workings of mechanical devices and the procedures employed. The human component is not ignored, either. The makeup of the crew, their special functions and even the order of command are described.

Door County Maritime Museum

The museum consists of three parts. The main museum is in Sturgeon Bay, where the John Purves is moored. Other facilities of the museum are located at Cana Island and Gills Rock. The Gills Rock Museum is devoted largely to a history of the area’s commercial fishing, shipwrecks and rescue. The main feature of the Cana Island location is the lighthouse. Plan to ascend a continually narrowing iron spiral staircase and enjoy views in all directions from the deck at the top.

Sturgeon Bay sectionLighthouse painting, Door Cty Marine Museum, Wisconsin

In addition to the tugboat, this location features galleries with permanent and traveling exhibits. When I visited, I enjoyed expositions of model boats, paintings by a group of local artists and a display of actual historic small boats. A window with painted images of maritime themes caught my eye. The brightly painted scenes were the perfect counterpoint  to an overcast, dreary day.

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