A familiar sight to anyone passing by the Harbor Springs bus garage on Fairview Street is Ephraim Shay’s rusty relic, the Aha. The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society owns the Aha and is looking into possibilities to display this important piece of Harbor Springs history. To that end, the Industrial Arts Institute of Onaway was commissioned to move the 1893 boat to their facility for further evaluation. The project is slated to be a thorough review of stabilization and restoration options with associated costs, and research into a final display location.
Ephraim Shay, one of Harbor Springs most notable residents, moved to the area in 1888. In 1891 he constructed a steel boat and named it the Aha. The vessel was designed by Shay and built in his machine shop on the corner of Bay and Judd Streets. An illustration of the vessel was included in an 1892 edition of the Northwestern Lumberman magazine and shows a craft similar to the one which exists today.
However, Shay was not entirely satisfied with his boat and continued to tinker with and modify it through the years. In 1894 the local newspaper reported that Shay had launched a new, modified Aha. The article notes that the new vessel “is a beauty, will carry twenty people outside and there is sufficient space inside to make up three or four berths when taking a long cruise. The egg-shaped bottom is something new in boat building but Mr. Shay says this does away with ballast.” The drawing included in the 1894 article matches the vessel now in the Historical Society’s possession.
In the 1930s the Aha’s engine was removed and the hull was towed toward a storage facility on Cecil Bay. However, the boat began taking on water and Sucker Creek (on northern Sturgeon Bay) was as far as they could go. The boat was beached and abandoned until it was rescued by the State of Michigan and taken to a maritime park and later a storage facility in Mackinaw City. In 2003 the boat came home to Harbor Springs and is now in the care of the Historical Society.
Despite rust, bullet holes and the decay caused by 125 years of use and outdoor storage, the Aha remains an important historical artifact. “As a tool for education and for attracting and holding the attention of visitors, the Aha is unmatched,” said Kristyn Balog, Executive Director of the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society. “This vessel will help us tell the story of Ephraim Shay, of our waterfront community, of invention and engineering and so much more. That is why we are looking at options for saving the Aha from further dilapidation and collapse.” The Historical Society hopes to one day display the Aha near Shay’s famous Hexagon House.
The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring history to life in the Harbor Springs area. If restoration proves feasible, the Historical Society will be seeking funding to complete this project. For more information or to make a donation, call 231-526-9771.