Ashley & Dustin
Of the many delightful trips by lake and river which are provided for the pleasure of the Detroiters, none is more popular than that afforded by the flyer of the lakes, the Frank E. Kirby, in her daily trips to Put-in-Bay and Sandusky. The history of the development of this route is both interesting and instructive as showing what pluck and enterprise can do, as well as affording a contrast between travel by water and rail.
Fifty years ago the only communication between Detroit and Sandusky was by means of boats sailing from Buffalo that touched at the various ports on the southern shore of Lake Erie on their way to Detroit. About this time, however, the Mad River and Lake Erie railroad was completed, forming a direct line between Sandusky and Cincinnati. Neither Cleveland nor Toledo had railroad communication with the outside world at this time. In order to take advantage of the outlet afforded the South, the late John Owen, of Detroit, built a side-wheel steamer called the Arrow, and ran her between Sandusky and Detroit. She was, for those days, an excellent boat, made good time, and became quite popular with both passengers and shippers. The Arrow was succeeded by the Bay City, but this boat was withdrawn when the Detroit, Monroe & Toledo railroad was opened, as the railroad proved too serious a competitor to lake travel. Subsequently a wheezing old rattle trap called the T. Whitney made weekly trips to Sandusky, but as her speed was not more than six miles an hour, she was not patronized to a great extent. She had two high-pressure engines, one for each wheel, and could not turn in her own length, but the puffing and snorting of the engine when she was performing this evolution were enough to frighten the timid and alarm the stout hearted.
In 1863 the Philo Parsons, owned by Peter, Simon and H. G. Fox, W. O. Ashley, and George L. Caldwell, began making daily trips to Sandusky, Mr. Ashley acting as clerk, and occasionally being in command, as he was on September 19, 1864, when the boat was captured by a gang of Confederates, refugees from Windsor. The Parsons ran two or three seasons and was then sold to Chicago parties.
The City of Sandusky went on the route in 1865 for a part of a season, and was succeeded by the small steamer Island Queen, which Mr. Ashley operated under charter. About this time Put-in-Bay began to attract attention as a summer resort, and believing that there were good prospects ahead for a regular boat to the island, Mr. Ashley succeeded in interesting the late John P. Clark in the matter, with the result that the Jay Cooke was built at Clark's dry dock and went into service on July 4, 1868. The Cooke was a fast boat with comfortable accommodations for passengers, and the Wednesday and Saturday excursions to the Island, which has since become popular, were inaugurated and have been continued to this day, the line continuing from that time to this winter under practically the same management. This boat continued in the service for thirteen years, when she was sold to Andrew Wehrle, Eugene McFall and others of Middle Bass island, and put on the route between Put-in-Bay and Sandusky.
In 1892 the Alaska, also built by John P. Clark, succeeded the Jay Cooke, after running one or two seasons between Buffalo and the island. She ran until May, 1889, when she caught fire while lying at the Michigan Central wharf in Detroit, and was burned to the water's edge. The season was finished by the Pearl and Gazelle, two of Clark's boats, one or the other of them running until June 1899, when the Frank E. Kirby, built by the Detroit Dry Dock Company and named after the designer, began the daily trips which have been so successful and so pleasing to the patrons of the line. The Kirby is a very fast boat, and in August, 1894 made the trip from Twelfth street, Detroit, to Put-in-Bay, a distance of about sixty miles, in two hours, fifty-four and three-quarter minutes. W. O. Ashley, of the firm of Ashley & Dustin, is the managing owner of the Kirby, and the business of the line is attended to in the offices of the above firm at the foot of First street, Detroit.
In 1876, John P. Clark, owner of Sugar island at the mouth of the Detroit river, put one of his boats, the Riverside, on the route between Detroit, Wyandotte, Sugar island and Amherstburg, the office and business management being also placed with Ashley & Dustin. The Riverside continued in this business until June, 1893, when the Wyandotte, a much larger and finer boat took her place. The Wyandotte was designed by Frank E. Kirby especially for the river line, and is of sufficient size to carry large excursion parties to the island, making two or three trips each day according to the demands of the traffic. This has become one of the favorite short trips on the Detroit river. Both the Kirby and the Wyandotte do a large freight business, the former handling her proportion of the fruit trade from Put-in-Bay, Kelley and Middle Bass islands in the seasons. The Kirby is commanded by Capt. A. J. Fox, an old and experienced officer.
Return to Home Port
This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.