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A Short History of Bay City Lodge #5
of the International Shipmasters Assoc.
By Alan Flood (March 2003)
Contributed Jun. 2007.

On Feb.24, 1890 a group of around twenty vessel owners, vessel masters, and other mariners from Bay City and West Bay City met in the offices of Mr. Charles H. Weeks for the purpose of organizing a local lodge of the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association. This grouping of mariners which became the core of the Bay City Lodge #5 were sponsored by Capt. Robert E. Gain, President of the Port Huron Lodge #2 and Captain Frank Welcome, the Vice President of the Buffalo Lodge #1 representing the larger organization.

At the time of the forming of Bay City Lodge #5, there were branch lodges of the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association in the port cities of Buffalo, NY, Port Huron, MI, Chicago, IL, and Cleveland, OH whose members numbered nearly 400 individuals. The organization had been founded in 1886 when a grouping of Buffalo shipmasters had combined their efforts for the benefit of professional mariners. Members were originally assessed $2.00 each so as to provide support to members who were disabled or a $100.00 benefit to the widows or other beneficiaries of a deceased member.

In the early days, the owners and managers of various steamboat lines objected to their masters and mates joining this association; thinking the or-ganization was a labor union. However, when the purpose of the grouping was explained to them as a voluntary organization of men dedicated to improving their own profession, the owners withdrew their objections and offered to contribute to the $100.00 death benefit should any shortage arise within the fund. (1)

By the time the Bay City lodge was formed in Feb. 1890 these early difficulties were behind the organization. Charles Weeks, who was a vessel owner and an agent for steamboat lines as well as the Michigan Central Railroad Co. had his offices at 109 Center Ave. in the Averell Block. (2) At the initial meeting of the new lodge, the following charter members were elected as officers.

  • President - Capt. Daniel M. Pierce.
  • First V.P. - Capt. Henry Bennett.
  • Second V.P. - Capt. John McNeil.
  • Treasurer - Capt. George Lester.
  • Financial Sec'y - Capt. Joseph Sauer.
  • Recording Sec'y - Capt. Herman Bennett.
  • Marshal - Capt. Edwin M. Ballentine.
  • Warden - Capt. George W. Smith.
  • Sentinel - Capt. Cass M. Saph.(3)

The officers of the new lodge were relatively evenly split as to residing in either Bay City or West Bay City. The lodge continued to hold weekly meetings at the offices of Mr. Weeks until April 10, 1890 when they adjourned until Nov. 11, 1890. The lodge was then reopened at its new meeting rooms in the Watson Block. (4) The Watson Block stood at the foot of Center Ave. on Water St. It backed onto the river and was torn down circa 1909-1910 when the area was redeveloped as Wenonah Park.

Some of the founding officers of the newly formed Bay City Lodge #5 had a certain degree of prominence locally and in some sense around the lakes.

Capt. Daniel M. Pierce was born in New York state in 1837 and along with his parents, four brothers and two sisters came to Bay City in 1844. Daniel's oldest brother Capt. Benjamin F. Pierce was also well known locally and brought the steam tug "John Lathrop" to the Saginaw river; the first tug on the river. (5) Daniel Pierce at fifteen years started as deckhand aboard the "Lathrop" and at age eighteen became master of the tug, a position he held for four seasons. As he grew in experience, he sailed as wheelsman, 2nd mate, and mate of various steamers on the lakes including the sidewheeler "Columbia", the "Huron", the "Magnet" and the "Music". Around 1885 he became master of the sidewheel steamer "Metropolis" plying between Saginaw, Bay City, and Alpena. In 1890, Capt. Pierce purchased a partial interest in the popular excursion steamer "Wellington R. Burt" and in 1891 took command of the vessel. Capt. Pierce was regarded as having a "jovial temperment" and was "a favorite with all whom business or pleasure take by way of the water." (6) By 1896 Capt. Pierce had come ashore and was engaged as a dealer of cigars and ticket brokerat the Fraser House, Bay City's premiere hotel. (7)

Capt. Henry Bennett was born on Wolf Island in the St. Lawrence river in 1844. He started sailing in 1863 aboard the schooner "Messenger". Capt. Bennett sailed in various positions aboard sail and steam vessels; and in 1890, when the Bay City lodge formed, was master of the wooden lumber steamer "S. S. Wilhelm". (8)

Capt. John S. McNeil was born on Prince Edward Island in 1843 and started sailing at the age of fourteen. During the seasons of 1874-1877 he was master of the steamer "V. H. Ketchum" which at that time was "the largest vessel afloat on fresh water." At one time he owned an interest in the lumber steamer "D. F. Rose" and two tow barges, the "Boscobel" and the "Marine City". (9)

Capt. George Lester was born in Marine City, MI in 1839 and came to West Bay City in 1881. In 1890 he married the sister of fellow lodge member Capt. John S. McNeil. At the time of his death in 1901; Capt. Lester had sailed the lakes for forty years, and had at one time, "owned an interest in a large line of boats". (10)

Capt. Cass M. Saph was also born in Marine City, MI 1853 and at age fouteen shipped as deckhand aboard the steamer "William Cowie". He was aboard this vessel with Capt. S. Andrews when they put up the first daymark locating and marking the dangerous shoals at Stannard Rock on Lake Superior. In 1881, Capt. Saph wrote for his pilots license and was appointed as mate of the steamer "D. F. Rose" under Capt. John McNeil. By the time the Bay City lodge of the shipmasters was organized in 1890, Capt. Saph had advanced to master of the "Rose". It was said that Capt. Saph was "exceedingly fortunate with the vessels under his command and has won and retained the confidence and esteem of the owners." (11) During the winters when the shipping season was suspended, Capt. Saph boarded at the Arlington House in West Bay City. (12)

Members of the various lodges of the Association met for the first time in convention at Buffalo on Jan.8, 1891. The newly designated Grand Lodge then convened and elected its officers from the membership of the local lodges.

As the organization grew, its purpose broadened to provide for improvment of the skills of its members and to make sure that shipmasters on the Great Lakes were able to have input in the making of government rules and regulations for safety and navigation. To reflect this greater purpose and growing membership, it was voted in 1893 to change the name from the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association to the Shipmasters Association. Increased participation by Canadian mariners led to the membership changing the name of the organization again in 1917 to the International Shipmasters Association, by which name they continue to be recognized today. (13)

The Bay City lodge continued in a "fairly prosperous condition" meeting regularly in the Watson Block with Capt. Pierce as lodge president. In 1892 membership numbered a high of 67 individuals. By 1894 however, the membership had dropped to 43 persons and on Feb. 25, 1895 the Bay City Lodge #5 was closed and the charter was surrendered to the Grand Lodge. (14)

Though the Bay City lodge had ceased to exist; the International Shipmasters Association continues as a respected and important force in matters concerning vessel navigation and safety on the Great Lakes. Among the past accomplishments of the organization would be:

  • Providing input into the establishment of recommended courses on the Great Lakes.
  • Offered advice to the US and Canadian Coast Guards on the placement of countless aids to navigation.
  • Worked with the US Corps of Engineers in the planning of channel improvements.
  • Offered guidance to the National Weather Service on efforts to improve marine weather forecasting. (15)

In the millenium year 2000 and early 2001 discussions were held exploring the possibility of reopening the Bay City lodge. Subsequently, on March 1, 2001 a charter was again issued by the Grand Lodge and Bay City Lodge #5 was reopened after a lapse of 106 years. The opening meeting was held in the glass case lined Edelweiss Room of the Stein Haus restaurant on Water St. This was the first new lodge formed since 1988. Fellow Shipmasters from the Port Huron, Cleveland, Detroit, Sault Ste. Marie, and Grand Traverse lodges were in attendance. Among these were five past Grand Presidents. The following members were elected as officers.

  • President - Capt. Ed Morris.
  • First V.P. - Mr. Ed Brklacich.
  • Second V.P. - Capt. Charles F. Ferris.
  • Sec'y/ Treasurer - Capt. Wade P. Streeter.
  • Marshal - Mr. Stephen Hause.
  • Warden - Mr. Scott Tomlinson.
  • Sentinel - Mr. Osa Brown.

Among others in attendance and initiated into the Bay City lodge were Mr. Bill Fournier of the Bay City Boat Lines, Captains John Harder and George Livingston of the "Princess Wenonah" and Capt. Bill Stender of Stender Marine.

Since the opening meeting, the lodge has continued to hold monthly meetings at the Stein Haus in Bay City. Current membership in the Bay City Lodge #5 numbers around 40. Total membership in the International Shipmasters Assn. in Feb. 2002 was 865. (16)

Individuals who have an affiliation, past or present with the marine industry are invited to inquire about membership at

    Bay City Lodge #5
    P.O. Box 2205
    Bay City, MI 48707

  1. Shipmasters Directory 1931, The International Shipmasters Association.
  2. Polks Directory of Bay City and West Bay City, 1890.
  3. Bay City Tribune, Tues. Feb. 25, 1890.
  4. Shipmasters Directory 1931, The International Shipmasters Association.
  5. History of Bay County, H.R.Page, Chicago 1883
  6. Portrait and Biographical Record, Saginaw and Bay Counties., 1892.
  7. Polks Directory of Bay City and West Bay City, 1896.
  8. Portrait and Biographical Record, Saginaw and Bay Counties., 1892.
  9. History of Bay County, H.R.Page, Chicago 1883
  10. The West Bay City Tribune, Tues. Dec. 10, 1901
  11. History of the Great Lakes, J.H. Beers & Co. Chicago, 1899.
  12. Polks Directory of Bay City and West Bay City, 1890.
  13. Shipmasters Directory 1931, The International Shipmasters Association.
  14. Ibid.
  15. ISMA website, www.shipmaster.org.
  16. Grand Lodge Proceedings of the 112th Meeting of the International Shipmasters Assn., Feb. 2002.
Related Pages

1901 American Shipping.
People Referenced
Andrews, S. Capt.
Ballentine, Edwin M. Capt.
Bennett, Henry Capt.
Bennett, Herman Capt.
Brklacich, Ed
Brown, Osa
Fournier, Bill
Gain, Robert E. Capt.
Harder, John
Hause, Stephen
Lester, George Capt.
Livingston, George
McNeil, John S. Capt.
Morris, Ed Capt.
Pierce, Benj. F. Capt.
Pierce, Daniel M. Capt.
Saph, Cass M. Capt.
Sauer, Jos. Capt.
Smith, Geo. W. Capt.
Stender Bill Capt.
Streeter, Wade P. Capt.
Tomlinson, Scott
Weeks, Charles H.
Welcome, Frank Capt.
Subjects Referenced
Alpena, MI
Arlington House (hotel)
Averill Block
Bay City, MI
Bay City Boat Lines
Bay City Lodge #5
Buffalo Lodge #1
Buffalo, NY
Canadian Coast Guard
Chicago, IL
Cleveland, OH
Detroit, MI
Excelsior Marine Bene. Assn.
Fraser House (hotel)
Grand Lodge
Grand Traverse Bay
Greal Lakes
Intl. Shipmasters Assn.
Lake Superior
Marine City, MI
Michigan Central R.R.
New York
Port Huron Lodge #2
Port Huron, MI
Prince Edward Island
Saginaw, MI
Saginaw River
Sault Ste. Marie
Shipmasters Assn.
St. Lawrence River
Standar Rock, MI
Stein Haus Restaurant
Stender Marine
US Coast Guard
Watson Block
Wenonah Park
West Bay City, MI
Wolf Island
Boscobel, barge
D.F. Rose
John Lathrop, tug
Marine City, barge
Princess Wenonah
S.S. Wilhelm
V.H. Ketchum
Wellington R. Burt
William Cowie
Internet Resources
[-] International Shipmasters' Association.
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