Scientists determined the remains of a vessel that were found 20 feet below ground during the construction of New York’s One World Trade Center predated the American Revolution. The wood from the ship’s frame likely came from a Philadelphia-area forest, dating back to 1773.
Here in Milwaukee, situated under the 1873-built Nazro Hardware Building at 170 S. Second St., lies a similar story.
“Erected on land redeemed from the deep marsh, 20 feet below the floor of the basement lies buried, where it sunk, the hull of a wrecked vessel,” states Milwaukee of Today: The Cream City of the Lakes, which was published in 1874.
The remains of this “wrecked vessel” marks what’s left of the SS Cincinnati, a small steamboat built at a Cleveland, Ohio, shipyard in 1836. The SS Cincinnati was a frequent transport between Cleveland and Detroit, but after colliding with the much larger SS Milwaukie in 1838, it was no more. The hull of the ship remains buried under the Nazro Hardware Building; any salvageable parts went on to become the SS John F. Porter which was rebuilt in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1842. The Porter sunk, too, taking several lives with it in 1848.
Obviously, this area of Second Street is no longer under water. Extensive precautions were taken to secure footing in the once-marshy area. A close row of oak ties, 12 by 10 inches thick, were laid and bedded in sand. Four layers of 12-by-12 oak timbers, bedded in cement, lie atop.
When built, the Nazro Hardware Building was said to have the capacity of 1 million cubic feet of storage space, and if used for a military hospital, could have accommodated 3,500 patients and four full regiments of soldiers, according to Milwaukee of Today: The Cream City of the Lakes. Although never accommodating soldiers, it’s led a life of changes, having once housed “the largest hardware store in the world,” a cigar factory, machine shop and a lengthy stint as a jewelry and department store. Downtown Mini Warehouse has been located in the building since 1980.
The old heating unit, “hallow sidewalk” and elevator are a testament to the structure’s age—dusty with remnants of coal but historically beautiful. The industrial elevator, permitted in 1909, looks similar to Disney’s Tower of Terror ride. However, looks are commonly deceiving. The wooden gates slam, leaving an echo in your ears, but it’s a smooth, reliable ride to the finish.