The Luxury of Great Lakes Ship Travel in 1800s
Prior to the railroads and highways being built in Michigan’s Thumb region the only quick way to travel between any major Michigan port town town or Chicago, Detroit and Bay City was by steamer.
The Birth of “Going Up North”
By the late
Service on Saginaw Bay
The steamer Charles W Liken was built as a tug in 1880 in Bay City by the West Bay City Shipbuilding Company. It was listed 63 foot long, 38 ton 36 horsepower ship. It lists its homeport at Bay City, Michigan in 1881 then Sebewaing in 1883. With a draft of only 5 feet, it was an ideal craft for the shallow ports along Saginaw Bay. It was transformed from a tug to a passenger steamer in 1898. The craft had two decks and carried passengers and mail.
The End of the C.W. Liken
While details are sketchy, the C.W. Liken operated for seven years as a passenger and mail courier. In 1904 it was rebuilt and listed for sale.
On August 13,
Ships Serving Saginaw Bay and Michigan’s Thumb
Between 1830 and 1910 there were hundreds of ships plying the Great Lakes hauling passengers and freight. Here are some notable transport Lines and the ships that served the Saginaw Bay and Thumb region.
Great Lakes Ship Travel with the Star Line
The Star Line had been in operation since the 1870s. In 1883, A. N. Moffat brought a 55% controlling interest in the tug line and took over established passenger service between Detroit and Port Huron. This was a competitive route. During one season, a rate war commenced between the Star Line and its competitor, the Cole & Grummond Line. One-way fares dropped from 75 to 15 cents and the competition extended to how fast each could complete the river run. The “river war” lasted until a truce called between the companies and rates returned to normal for the rest of the season. Ultimately the Star Line hit hard times forcing its general manager and majority owner, A.N. Moffat into retirement. Declining revenues enabled Moffat’s company to be taken over by the White Star Line.
Star Line Ships
- Milton D. Ward – Built 1870 in Marine City. 182 feet, 500 hp.
- Robert J. Holland – Built 1872 Marine City. 156 feet.
- Evening Star – Built 1866 East Saginaw. 168 feet.
- Saginaw Valley – Built 1881. Saginaw. 181 feet.
Cleveland & Saginaw Transportation Co.
Headquartered in East Saginaw this line offered transport of passengers and freight from Bay City/ Saginaw to Goodrich Ontario, Sand Beach, Port Hope, Grindstone City, Port Austin, Caseville, East Tawas, Tawas City,
Cleveland & Saginaw Transportation Ships
- Jacob Bertschy
- St. Joeseph
Accommodations Aboard a Great Lakes Steamship
About fifty cruise steamers sailed on the Great Lakes before World War II. These large, luxurious ships have about eight elegant “parlors” or staterooms with double beds and private baths, all finished in paneling and gingerbread trim. The remaining seventy to one hundred rooms were like this cabin. Those with windows or portholes corresponded with the “second class.“ Inside cabins without portholes might be described as “third-class” although these designations were not used. This reconstruction is based on the accommodations in the Canadian steamer Keewatin.
Great Lakes Steamship Video
Information Sources Great Lakes Ship Travel
- Merchant Vessels of the United States, By United States. Bureau of Customs June 30, 1881
- Great Lakes Vessels Online Index
- Marine Review, Volume 30, 1904
- Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library
- Detroit Free Press
- Maritime History of the Great Lakes
- Plan a Day of Kayaking in the Upper Thumb
- Historic Story of Cruising the Great Lakes
- Great Lakes Cruising the Summer of 2019