The Side-Wheeler Steamboats on Michigan’s Saginaw River

While conducting other research, I ran across this advertisement for a side-wheeler steamboat line running a route between Saginaw and Bay City. While information is scant, it does offer a little nugget of traveling by riverboat in Mid Michigan in the 1870s.

We almost take it for granted that we can hop in a car and travel a hundred miles to go to a special place for a lunch date. In the 1870s, a hundred-mile trip anywhere was considered a significant life event. People tended to live and die near where they were born. It must have been a fantastic experience to board a steamship or train and travel at an incredible 15-35 miles an hour when your ordinary course of travel is to walk or on horseback.

The East Saginaw and Bay City’s line of side-wheeler steamers consisted of the Daniel Ball captained by Robert Medler, the L. G. Mason, captained by William Monroe, and the Evening Star captained by T.M. Hubbell. The route was back and forth between East Saginaw and Bay City six times each Tuesday and Friday. The schedule to depart East Saginaw was at 6:45, 9:00, and 11:00 am, then at 1:00, 3:00, and 5:15 pm. Two ships plied this route each sailing day so a passenger could leave during these same times. The travel time was about 2 hours: the fare, 25 cents.

Disaster stuck this line on October 17, 1876, when the Daniel Ball caught fire as it approached Bay City. All the passengers and crew escaped.

The Star Line

Sidewheeler  Steam Ships - The Star Line

The side-wheeler steamboat, the Evening Star did service with the Idlewild on the Star Line operating between Detroit, Port Huron, and Port Austin. The owner of the Star Line, A.N. Moffat started a “river war” on this route made for one of the most interesting tales of completion among steamship captains on the Great Lakes.

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