2017-04-08 / News

Welcome Could Become Downtown Mackinaw City Museum Ship

By Erich T. Doerr

The sloop Welcome visited St. Ignace in 2009, when these photographs of her under sail were taken, and was displayed for the public at the waterfront downtown. Now, the boat may become a stationary display on the waterfront at Mackinaw City. The sloop Welcome visited St. Ignace in 2009, when these photographs of her under sail were taken, and was displayed for the public at the waterfront downtown. Now, the boat may become a stationary display on the waterfront at Mackinaw City. The historic replica sloop Welcome may be on display in Mackinaw City much sooner than anyone expected, since Emmet County has sold the ship to local businessman Joe Lieghio for $10,111. Mr. Lieghio hopes to display the vessel as a museum ship on waterfront and will now seek the proper approvals to do so. The boat was sold Thursday, March 16.

“I think this is a good way to give back to the community,” Mr. Lieghio said. “We want to make it in such a way it will last for generations.”

The Welcome is a wooden ship built in 1976 by Mackinac State Historic Parks in celebration of the United States bicentennial. The ship is a recreation of an original vessel built in 1774 and used for fur trading in the Great Lakes before it was purchased by the British for use in the Straits area during the American Revolution. The original Welcome sank in a storm in 1781, its final resting place unknown but thought to be somewhere on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The reconstructed Welcome sailed for years, most recently under the ownership of Traverse City’s Maritime Heritage Alliance (MHA), until age brought that to an end in the early 2010s. The MHA used the vessel as a dockside attraction in 2013 before seeking a new home for her. Emmet County purchased the vessel in November 2013, putting to rest the idea she could be sunk as a diving attraction if a buyer wasn’t found. The county bought the boat with the hopes of displaying it indoors in a proposed new museum and conference center at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Welcome was moved overland to the park in October 2014 and has been stored for the last two years in a large garage built specifically to house it.

The conditions of the sale state that Mr. Lieghio will accept the Welcome in its present condition and move the ship off county property within the next 90 days.

Mr. Lieghio’s goal for the Welcome is a downtown display near the site of the family’s new, elevated restaurant under construction at 201 South Huron Avenue. If the plan comes to fruition, its new home will be only about 500 feet south of the position it previously held for years when it was displayed at the Mackinaw City Municipal Marina. The ship would be highly visible to guests at the neighboring Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum and passengers on Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. The elevated nature of the new restaurant means the ship would also remain visible to pedestrians on South Huron Avenue. Mr. Lieghio hopes to attract visitors to the ship and also draw attention to other waterfront attractions.

It is highly unlikely that Welcome will ever sail again. Mr. Lieghio wants to place the ship in the water, giving the appearance of it being docked, but, in reality, the boat will be supported by an elaborate underwater setup. The ship will rest in a concrete structure filled with pea gravel to drain away much of the water and deter rotting. The ship will also be painted with a sealer to keep water out as well as possible. Mr. Lieghio wants the display to last for generations. Wooden boats didn’t last long, and the ship already has outlasted most other vessels of this type. The sloop needs repairs inside and out before it can be displayed, and some restoration volunteers have already offered to help.

Mr. Lieghio said he could build the supporting base for the vessel in just a few weeks if he gets the approval from the village to do so. He has already acquired the forms for pouring the concrete needed for the project. It is expected that getting the necessary approvals for the display will be the longest part of the upcoming work.

The ship’s location next to the restaurant will be decorated with buoys, cannons, and ships bells that Mr. Lieghio has purchased for that purpose. The Welcome will maintain all of its present equipment for its proposed display. Once the ship is on display, it will be available for tours, although Mr. Lieghio anticipates that won’t be until 2018. A bridge will be installed to allow guests to board the vessel. There will be a small admission charge to see the boat, with the money raised being used to pay some of the costs of maintaining it. Mr. Lieghio does not expect to make a profit from the ship, but believes the Welcome will be a good addition to downtown.

Emmet County Parks and Recreation Director Laurie Gaetano said the county sold the Welcome after a change in plans following the recent election turnover on the Emmet County Board of Commissioners. The acquisition and planned display of the Welcome was an idea of the old board that the new board was not going to be able to pursue in the immediate future. Mr. Lieghio spoke to the board before the sale, with the board agreeing his plans to display the ship were similar to theirs, giving the transaction the go-ahead. The sale of the ship does not mean the end of the county’s plans for expansion at the Headlands, and fundraising continues for a proposed new building.

Ms. Gaetano is hopeful that Mr. Lieghio’s plans will pan out. She notes this route will likely put the ship back on public display much quicker than the county planned to.

“I’m okay with (this sale),” Ms. Gaetano said. “I want to see this pan out with the ship being open to the public.”

Mr. Lieghio has lived in Mackinaw

City for decades and still remembers when the Welcome was built here. At the time, he greatly admired the boat, having seen it during its initial displays at the village marina. Years ago, he made an effort to buy the ship before it left the Straits area for Traverse City, but was not successful, and still recalls how upsetting it was to see the Welcome leave. When this opportunity offered him a second chance to acquire the ship, he jumped on it. Mr. Lieghio hopes to bring the display together fast enough that the Welcome will move directly from the Headlands to its new home downtown. The boat will again be moved overland.

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