The City of Washington

City of Washington wreck

In 25 feet of water east of Key Largo, the remains of the City of Washington lie on Elbow Reef. On July 10, 1917, while being towed by a tug, the City of Washington ran aground on and was a total loss within minutes.



The Steam Ship City of Washington (SS City Washington), launched August 31, 1877, was an iron hulled steamer for use in passenger transport and the cargo trade between New York, Cuba, and Mexico. She was outfitted with two compound engines of 2,750 horse-power, with two masts for auxiliary power, as was typical for late 19th century ships. In 1889, SS City of Washington was refitted with two triple expansion steam engines, which became the norm at the time to replace the much less efficient compound engines.

The City of Washington's moment in history came the night of February 15, 1898. Because of deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Spain over the rebellion in Cuba, the USS Maine was moored in Havana Harbor to protect American interests. That night the Maine exploded. The City of Washington was moored close by and suffered damage to her awnings and deck houses by flying debris. Her crew assisted in the rescue of the Maine survivors.

This was the final event leading to the Spanish-American War. During the war, the City of Washington was used as a transport ship carrying troops. She returned to her passenger and cargo runs following the war until retirement in 1908. Three years later she was purchased and converted into a coal-transporting barge.

On July 10, 1917, the tugboat Luchenbach #4 towing the City of Washington and the Seneca ran aground on Elbow Reef. The tug and its second vessel were soon refloated, but the City of Washington broke up and sank.


The wreck site of the City of Washington is 325 feet long and contains mostly the lower bilge section of the steel hull. The hull structure can be followed for most of its contour, although several huge gaps are present. The bow section is badly damaged. While the site is concentrated, scattered features extend 140 feet from the main axis of the ship.


Site Map

City of Washington site map

Click here for a printable version of the City of Washington site map.


Interactive 3D Model

The image below activates a 3D model created using multi-image photogrammetry. Click the image to load the model, and then click, hold, and adjust your mouse to view the model from different angles.

The photogrammetric model is composed of 6301 aligned images collected June 1, 2017 by scientific divers from FKNMS, Indiana University, and the Boy Scouts of America, with support from a NOAA Preserve America grant. The area modeled isabout 3190 square meters, with an estimated position error of just over 3 cm. Model and texture resolution were reduced for upload.
Photography was processed by Matthew Maus, Indiana University.

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