Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Grebe & Co. Inc. U.S. Navy Shipyard History on the Chicago River at Belmont Avenue.

In 1926, Milwaukee's former "Great Lakes Boat Building Corporation" became the "Henry C. Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard" and moved to Chicago. The shipyard was over eight acres on the north branch of the Chicago River at 3250 North Washtenaw Avenue, across the river from the famous Riverview Park

Before World War II, Grebe (Gree-be) produced sail yachts and powerboats for exclusive clientele.
During WWII, Grebe built various wood and steel vessels for the Navy. The yard had cranes to lift 50 tons and a complete inter-yard rail system. There was storage for 400 yachts.
During the war, the shipyard built over 56 ships, wood, and steel, for the U.S. Navy, including 21 tugboats, 4 tankers, and 28 minesweepers (aka auxiliary motor minesweepers). These vessels were used in detecting mines laid by enemy submarines, and their wooden hulls helped prevent the explosion of nearby magnetic-triggered mines. 
This is a 1943 panorama of the Grebe Shipyard, which operated from 1926 to 1994. The former Riverview Park is visible in the background of this photograph. In the foreground, several U.S. Navy vessels are under construction.
Rumor has it that Grebe built P.T. boats (small patrol boats, the most famous, PT-109, was commanded by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy). According to the Chicago Maritime Museum, which holds the Grebe archives, they never built P.T. boats.
The shipyard's existence was why moveable bridges were kept in place on the north branch of the Chicago River because the bridges needed to open to let the Grebe-built craft to Lake Michigan.
Grebe Shipyard looks east across the Chicago River. Note Riverview Park's rides, Shoot the Chutes and The Bobs roller coaster in the background, circa 1928.
The Yard Minesweeper 84 (YMS-84) was laid down on June 2, 1941, by Henry C. Grebe and Co., Chicago, IL. Launched on March 3, 1942, and was completed on May 23, 1942. The USS YMS-84 was a YMS-1 Class Auxiliary Motor Minesweeper built for the United States Navy and commissioned into service in May 1942. Notable for being the first U.S. Navy Vessel built in Illinois during the Second World War, the YMS-84 and her crew steamed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico, where she began training and convoy escort duties through early 1943.
After the war, Grebe returned his business to mostly building pleasure craft for such Chicago luminaries as Philip Wrigley and Sterling Morton of Morton Salt. They also made some powerboats for the Chicago Police Department.

When Grebe passed away in 1952, his widow Marguerite took over operations, unusual enough to merit several newspaper articles about her. As time went on, the interest in these high-end yachts waned. She ran the company until they completed their last boat in 1972. The company continued to operate at the site until 1994, providing boat maintenance and storage. The land was worth more than the business.
Today the site is occupied by the Belmont River Club townhomes.

ADDITIONAL READING: Houseboats on the Chicago River; The history of living on the river.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.



  2. I own grebe hull number 189 can anybody give me information of my vessel ?

    1. Look here:

  3. Really neat views of Riverview

  4. My Dad worked at Grebe for over 30 years building yachts, at the end of his career he was V.P. of sales.


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