April 22, 2016 - Author: Dan O'Keefe, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant, and Ashley M. Deming, Michigan Maritime Museum

Evelyn S., above, in her new role as an educational exhibit at Michigan Maritime Museum. Below shown in 1950. Photo: Michigan Maritime Museum.
Evelyn S., above, in her new role as an educational exhibit at Michigan Maritime Museum. Below shown in 1950. Photo: Michigan Maritime Museum.

A new Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail offers opportunity to explore the past, present and future of the lakes through the lens of fish and fishing (See Part 1, series introduction). In this article, we visit South Haven and the Michigan Maritime Museum to explore commercial fishing heritage of west Michigan as told through the historic commercial fishing vessel, Evelyn S.

The Evelyn S. was built in 1939 by Sturgeon Bay Boat Works William Selman Fisheries of Manistique, Mich. She fits the typical wooden gill net fish tug design so prevalent on the waters during this period. Measuring 50 feet long with a 13-foot beam, Evelyn S. also boasts a 3-cylinder Kahlenburg diesel engine (much like the engine aboard the Katherine Vat the Besser Museum in Alpena, Mich.). To extend the life of the vessel, Evelyn S. was also sheathed in steel with a completely enclosed deck to protect her crew against the frozen waters of Lake Michigan.

In 1943, Evelyn S. was sold to a commercial fishing company in Frankfort, Mich. Commercial fishing was part of a thriving diverse maritime economy on Lake Michigan from the 1860s to the 1970s,and the Evelyn S. plied the waters of Lake Michigan bringing in catches that helped make local communities such as South Haven flourish.  She fished until 1952 when she was sold to a Muskegon towing company.  In 1979, the founder of the Michigan Maritime Museum realized the importance of this vessel as an example of a dwindling aspect of the diverse maritime economy and acquired Evelyn S. She soon became a main attraction as an on-water exhibit for the museum in South Haven. After 40 years of serving as a working vessel, Evelyn S. now serves as an educational tool to represent these once common vessels and the important impact they had on local communities.

In the early 1980s, the Evelyn S. was restored by the museum as a land-based exhibit after a sinking incident at the museum dock.  In 2014 and 2015, Evelyn S. was again restored after the City of South Haven and the museum were awarded a grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Zone Management Program which was coupled with local funds and volunteer efforts toward this restoration. Evelyn S. was moved to her permanent home on the museum campus and anchored in place. The restoration work, which included making the boat watertight and removing dry rot, was undertaken by Great Lakes Boat Building School graduate Hans Wagner and others.  Sanding and painting efforts were conducted by volunteers and museum interns. The interior exhibit will feature commercial fishing artifacts and historic photos for visitors to explore. On the exterior, there is a technology station that features an interactive touch screen that allows visitors to watch this video about commercial fishing and Evelyn SThe restoration and exhibit is scheduled to open May 1, 2016.

In addition to a public exhibit, Evelyn S. is also being used in a variety of new educational programming at the museum. In 2015 museum staff worked with Michigan Sea Grant to develop a lesson plan that targeted 3rd through 5th grades. This interactive lesson focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) themes, introducing students to commercial fishing and the changes to the industry over time. The activity touches on invasive species, technological changes, and economic and environmental impacts.

Evelyn S. plays an important role in bringing these themes to life for the students.  The museum’s 2015 STEM Summer Camp piloted a commercial fishing education program that incorporated this lesson plan, a tour of Evelyn S., and a tour aboard Elsie J., a converted commercial fishing tug owned by the Jensen family who operated a fishery in South Haven until the 1980s. The museum is also working with the South Haven Public School District to develop an educational program around commercial fishing for the 6th grade in which Evelyn S. will play a crucial role.

The Michigan Maritime Museum is proud to have Evelyn S. as a part of the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail linking these vessels and commercial fishing heritage across land and water. Informational signage will be installed in the spring of 2016 to highlight the trail, the history of commercial fishing and Evelyn S., as well as all of the donors, sponsors, and volunteers that made her restoration possible. For more information on Evelyn S. and the museum visit www.michiganmaritimemuseum.org.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Read the Fisheries Heritage Trail Series:

Part 1- People, fish, and fishing

Part 2 - Katherine V.