The steamer CITY OF DETROIT (U.S.4378) was a wooden-hulled passenger and freight propellor which had been built in 1866 by Philander Lester at Marine City, Michigan. She was 167.0 x 27.7 x 12.1, her Gross tonnage variously reported as 652 or 682. We have not seen a photo of this vessel, if indeed one exists, but she was probably typical of such boats of her day, with an upper deck cabin, cargo doors on the 'tween deck, an octagonal "birdcage" pilothouse, and her stack far aft.
The famous Ward Line of Detroit appears to have had an interest in this steamer. Capt. Eber Ward and associates were very active in lake shipping during the middle years of the last century and they formed one of the first large organized line services to the upper lakes. In 1870, CITY OF DETROIT was operating to Silver Islet in Lake Superior off Thunder Cape. Silver Islet was once the site of a famous silver mine which was being developed about the time that CITY OF DETROIT traded there, probably carrying miners and supplies. Silver Islet closed down many years ago and today the mine is nothing but a memory.
By 1873, CITY OF DETROIT was owned by John Pridgeon of Detroit. Pridgeon held a controlling interest in the Chicago - Sarnia service of the Grand Trunk line of steamers. This operation lasted until the Grand Trunk completed its Chicago - Sarnia rail link, at which time the water route was abandoned. CITY OF DETROIT serviced this route until her loss in 1873, and there follows and account of her demise, as culled from the Port Huron Daily Times and supplied courtesy of Rev. Peter J. Van der Linden.
Monday, December 8, 1873:
Terrible Disaster: The propellor CITY OF DETROIT of the Grand Trunk Line is lost with all on board. Capt. Morris Barrett of the barge GUIDING STAR with a crew of seven, arrived at Port Elgin, Ontario, Saturday afternoon (December 6) in a yawl boat with their feet fully frozen. They left the barge about nine miles out in a disabled condition. She was laden with 24,000 bushels of wheat, bound from Milwaukee to Sarnia, and was in tow of the propellor CITY OF DETROIT, which was laden with 8,000 bushels of wheat, the remainder of her cargo being rolling freight.
The gale struck at 3:30 that morning, when they cut the barge loose, and about 7:00 a.m. the CITY OF DETROIT sank in Saginaw Bay. Capt. Barrett saw three of the crew of the propellor [sic] in a yawl and one man was seen in another boat. It is feared that the rest of the crew went down with the propellor.[sic] There were about 26 persons aboard. It is thought that there is some error about the time, as it is supposed that the gale referred to was the gale of Thursday morning (December 4th).
On Sunday morning, Mr. Dennis Lynn of this city (Port Huron), who is agent for many of the tugs, was requested to dispatch a first-class tug at once to the relief of the GUIDING STAR in order to save lives.
Tuesday, December 9, 1873:
The barge GUIDING STAR, which was in tow of the propellor[sic] CITY OF DETROIT, on the morning of December 4, when the latter went down off Saginaw Bay, arrived down yesterday afternoon in tow of the tug PRINDEVILLE [sic]. Capt. Barrett, in conversation with gentlemen of this city yesterday, related as much as he knew of the dreadful accident.
It appears that the ill-fated steamer became disabled so that she could no longer hold on to the barge, and so the barge was cut adrift. Soon afterwards, the captain and crew of GUIDING STAR perceived that the propellor was sinking. She was seen to be going down stern first, and the passengers and crew were seen grouped together on the pilothouse and about it. In a short time, CITY OF DETROIT gave a plunge backward and was gone.
Such were the hazards of lake travel in the steamers of those early years. Payment of fare was no guarantee of delivery at or near the intended destination, and a variety of undesirable fates awaited the unfortunate. Chilling lake waters, insatiable flames, and scalding steam from exploded boilers all took their toll of those who travelled by steamboat which was, in many cases, the only way to reach a destination apart from walking across country and catching such railroad service as then existed.
"PRINDEVILLE" mentioned in the news report was the famous upper lake tug, JOHN PRINDIVILLE, 135 feet and 263 tons, which was built at Chicago in 1862. She operated for many years in the Sarnia - Port Huron area and was sold Canadian in 1884. Rebuilt at Collingwood in 1896 and latterly known as (b) CHARLTON, she later served on Georgian Bay and then on the St. Lawrence River, and was still in documentation as late as the 1930s.
GUIDING STAR was a wooden two-masted schooner of 384 tons, built in 1867 at Marine City and long operated by the Red Star Line (Blood, Bond and Ford) of Oswego, New York, principally in the grain trade. She later passed to upper lake interests and was abandoned in 1892.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.