In 1857, revetment work began in Grand Haven to maintain a channel. These were placed to narrow and improve the channel and also halt the erosion at the west end of the River. This created a part in the river that was unusable to ships and was in turn used as a place to put the dredgings from the River.
Commander John Kelly who was commander of the 10th Coast Guard District thought that this area would be good spot for Coast Guard vessels. In 1932, the Cutter Escanaba would arrive, allowing the Commander to realize one of his dreams. However, the basin was not fully converted until after his death. Part of it was used as a park and named Kelly Memorial Park in his honor.
Like many of the Coast Guard cutters on the Great Lakes, her duties were icebreaking and search and rescue. The people of Grand Haven became proud of what they considered to be their ship.
In 1941, she was transferred to Boston and she become an escort and search and rescue ship during the war. In June of 1942, while she was escorting a convoy from Cape Cod to Halifax, she made contact with two U-boats but there was no confirmation that she sank them. After those attacks, she rescued the crew of the SS Cherokee. Later that month, she would be credited with the sinking of two submarines.
In February of 1943, she participated in the rescue of the USAT Dorchester. This marked the first time that survival suits were used. In total, she would rescue 133 survivors. This action would earn her skipper the Legion of Merit.
On June 10, 1943, the other ships of the convoy she was escorting saw a sheet of flame shoot up from her. There was also a pillar of smoke. She went down so quickly, that no distress signal was sent. Two ships were sent to rescue her crew but could only find two men alive (Boatswain's Mate Baldwin and Seaman 1st Class O'Malley) and one body (Lt. Prause). The other 12 officers and 90 men were lost. It is believe the two men survived because the cold water froze their clothing to the debris so they didn't sink.
The exact cause of the explosion could not be determined at the time and it was believed to have been sunk by a U-boat. However, no U-boat took credit for her sinking. It is also believe that she was sank by an errant mine.
The people of Grand Haven were devastated by the loss of their cutter. As a result, they raised $1,000,000 in war bonds towards the construction of a replacement cutter to bear her name. That cutter was commissioned in 1946. She was originally named Ostego but that was changed to Escanaba in honor of the first cutter. She participated in a few rescues and was scrapped in 1974. There is a new Escanaba that serves out of Boston.