By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 12, 2021 at 8:31 AM

Fans of Milwaukee – and Great Lakes – history who haven't signed up for the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society's mailing list are missing out.

The group – headquartered at Milwaukee Public Library, which I featured in this story a few years back – is very active in terms of collecting and archiving documents and photos and objects and also hosts numerous events each year.

The newsletter is an easy way to find a cool old photo in your inbox every week (sometimes more). And, because these folks are history buffs like the rest of us, there's always a story behind the photo and the WMHS folks share that story.

Here is today's story – written by Suzette Lopez – from the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society:

On this day April 12, 1863, the two masted schooner ROSA BELLE was launched at the L. H. Boole shipyard opposite the New York Central docks in Milwaukee.

She measured 100 feet in length, 25 feet in beam and had a depth of hold 7 feet 8 inches.  She was adaptable to either the lumber or grain trade.  She was built for Messrs. French & Miller and was commanded by Captain Miller.

A short note about her builders. Leonard Hoffman Boole and William F. Squires were partners in the L. H. Boole & Co. and proprietors of the Badger State Shipyard in Milwaukee.

Rosa BelleX

Boole, a marine and naval architect, had served as an apprentice under shipbuilder William H. Webb in New York and later authored "The Shipwright’s Handbook and Draughtsman’s Guide."

ROSA BELLE was one of those vessels I like to point out to researchers who question the spelling of a vessel’s name as her bow signboard read ROSABELLE and her stern signboard read ROSA BELLE. 

Rosa BelleX

The ROSA BELLE was well built by Boole as she had a 58 year career.  She also had many run ins and mishaps.  One of her more notable mishaps was going ashore in August 1875 near Grand Haven.  Her captain was badly injured by falling spars and rigging.

Capt. Peterson received several broken ribs and a head injury from which he never recovered.  The rest of the crew were safely rescued. The ROSA BELLE was reported to have gone to pieces after this but was thoroughly rebuilt and launched again in April 1876.

Rosa BelleX
Rosa BelleX

Her sailing days ended on October 30, 1921.   It is presumed she capsized during a storm on Lake Michigan.  The wreck was found floating 42 miles off Milwaukee.  She was bottom side up with no crew in sight. Her yawl was missing.

It was determined she had not been involved in a collision with another vessel.  She drifted south to 20 miles off Kenosha and from there was towed into Racine’s harbor.   No sign of her crew of 11 was found.

Rosa BelleX

She was later bought by H & M Body Corp who beached her 100 feet offshore north of Racine to remove her lumber.

Rosa BelleX

According to Herman Runge, she was on the beach north of the north pier in Racine on August 27, 1922.  Runge noted her center board box was still there in 1927.        


ROSA BELLE being towed by tug PETER REISS in Sheboygan River, Sheboygan.

ROSA BELLE, undated.

ROSA BELLE, undated.

ROSA BELLE, crew at stern, undated.

ROSA BELLE, crew, undated.

ROSA BELLE, wreck docked at Racine, undated

ROSA BELLE, wreck at Racine, undated

PHOTO CREDIT:  Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.