The tug John Purves is closed for the 2020 season. We are grateful for all the folks who joined us for a tour this summer! We look forward to welcoming you aboard in 2021, May to October!
Enjoy an all-access, 40-minute guided tour of the John Purves, an immaculately restored 1919 Great Lakes tugboat. Explore the entire 149-foot tug, from her engine room to crew cabins, galley and wheelhouse, and get a feel for the daily life of her hard-working 13-man crew.
The Big Red Tugboat
The John Purves was originally built as the ocean-going tug Butterfield in 1919 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation at Elizabeth, NJ. As part of a larger government contract by the United States Shipping Board for vessels to fulfill a variety of supply roles during World War One, the swift end to America’s involvement in 1918 left a glut of new ships. A single-screw steam tug at the time, her initial service was for the Navy, performing salvage duties and functioning as a floating radio station in the Gulf and Caribbean till 1922.
Growing trade and commercial freight on the Great Lakes led to increased demand for tugboats, and in 1922 the Butterfield was purchased by Newaygo Tug Line out of Milwaukee. Built to sail blue water, the deep draft and powerful engine of the vessel meant she had plenty of work available in all conditions. It wouldn’t be long, however, before she would make her way back to the ocean.
The onset of World War Two created a significant demand not only for warships, but also for the many support and supply vessels necessary to sustain a global conflict. In August 1942, a Lieutenant T.O. Kirby took over the tug Butterfield for the U.S. Army. After being delivered, inspected, and painted navy gray, the Butterfield was officially drafted by the U.S. Army and rechristened LT-145. She slowly made her way back to the Gulf in November 1942, delivering barges of materials along the coast.
In the Pacific, the Aleutian Islands campaign had already been in full swing for months, turning the harsh area into a warzone. Often called the forgotten battle, due to the Guadalcanal campaign taking up public attention, the Aleutian fighting was no less intense. The isolated front made delivering supplies to the garrisons at Dutch Harbor, Adak, and other locations on the island chain all that more important. It was into this dangerous climate that LT-145 ultimately sailed and served with distinction. In addition to delivering supplies, the powerful radio broadcasting abilities that the Butterfield had been built with for World War One allowed LT-145 to also function as a as floating weather station during the course of the conflict.
With the close of the Second World War, the military service of LT-145 would come to an end. The Butterfield once more, the veteran vessel would return to the Great Lakes for Consolidated Water Power & Paper Company. Captain John Roen of Sturgeon Bay purchased the tug in 1956 and renamed it John Purves in honor of his good friend and the long-time General Manager of the Roen Steamship Company.
The John Purves was donated to the Door County Maritime Museum in 2003. Restoration of the tug took five and one half years, over 30,000 volunteer hours and almost $1 Million in cash and in-kind donations. Since opening as a floating exhibit at the Door County Maritime Museum in 2008, the John Purves has hosted more than 60,000 visitors for tours.
The Door County Maritime Museum and the John Purves are part of the Historic Naval Ships Association, a non-profit organization whose membership is comprised of naval ship museums and memorials around the world. For more information, click here.