Niles couple helps tell historic ship’s story

Published 5:29 pm Thursday, July 26, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Many people may not know the history of The Welcome. Many may not even know what it is.
The Welcome was a 1770s merchant ship built by fur-trader John Askins. This wooden ship, which was 56-feet long, 16-feet wide and 35 tons, transporting goods from one location to another. It was not a passenger ship, instead it was used as a small cargo-ship, called a schooner, for Askins to deliver furs and other goods from his business. It was also used to pick up merchandise on the East coast.
During the American Revolution, the ship was used to convey goods for the British Army and to deliver soldiers. The ship sailed the waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie.
The ship and its crew mainly stayed in the upper part of the state, however, on one occasion it came to the mouth of the St. Joseph River to deliver supplies for soldiers at Fort St. Joseph during the end of the war.
The Welcome made its home at Fort Mackinac. Due to age and conditions, the original ship is no longer around, but a complete replica is.
Larry and Janine Horrigan and Bill and Pat Rockhill of Niles were able to see the ship up close and personal recently when they were invited for the National Governors Conference. There, they were able to speak in front of many notable people, including government officials and dignitaries from other countries, including Iran.
"It was very exciting to be able to do something like that. Everyone seemed very interested in the ship," Larry Horrigan said.
Horrigan explained that he is close friends with three of the re-enactors on the ship crew. Horrigan and his wife, Janine, are also reenactors and teach many histories lesson around Michigan and Indiana.
"I know a few of the crew members very well and they know we are professional re-enactors and invited us up for the conference," Horrigan said.
There, they were able to tell the story of The Welcome and even dress in 1770s attire.
"It went very well. Everyone was so nice. The governor even gave a speech from inside the ship," Horrigan added,
The security was also very high, as Horrigan explained that police officers and bomb sniffing dogs could be seen everywhere.
"After docking, the police actually dove under the ship to check things. The bombs and officers also walked the ship three or four times, checking to make sure everything was alright. Very high security," Horrigan said.
The replica was actually made by the State of Michigan for the bicentennial at Mackinac. In the 1980s and 90s, the ship would actually sail, giving tours to those who paid. But over time it again needed repairs and the coast guard would not let it sail anymore.
That's when Maritime Heritage Academy stepped in and purchased the ship for just $1.
"A truck actually took the ship from Mackinac to Traverse City, where 90 percent of it was rebuilt. The only thing they did differently was added two twin diesels. Since then she has been back up and running," Horrigan said.
Although the ship does not give trips just yet, Horrigan said that is something they hope will be done in the future.
"They would like to sail her on Lake Michigan again. People could pay to take trips. There are other boats in the area that do it now, but The Welcome isn't quite ready yet," Horrigan said.
The Horrigans are no strangers to the history of this area, or the state at that matter. They give history lessons and reenact several different events from the 1700 and 1800s.
"We really don't talk a lot about things past 1812," Horrigan said.
On Oct. 19, an Educational Day will be held, where students in the fourth grade and up in the Niles School District are given a local history lesson, where they learn about the history of the City of Niles. The two have been educating students on Niles' history for the past 10 years.
"We teach them more in one day than the teachers do in six months," Horrigan said.
There will also be an event on Oct. 20, which is open to the public. It will take place at Riverside Park and reenactments as well as history lessons will be taught.
"We just encourage the public to come see the event in October. It's a great chance for everyone to learn about their community," Horrigan added.
If anyone would like any information on this or other events, please contact Larry or Janine at 683-1786.