Tashmoo Park and the Steamer Tashmoo

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

1901 In less hurried times, a leisurely summer boat excursion was the very definition of quality time. Hordes of Detroiters boarded the steamer Tashmoo for a trip up to Harsens Island in the St. Clair Flats, where they forgot the workaday world and enjoyed the amenities of Tashmoo Park: swimming, rides, games, dancing, dining, and entertainment. Here, the steamer is seen leaving the wharf in Detroit, which was located at the foot of Griswold — where the Veterans Memorial Building stands today. The Tashmoo, part of the White Star Line fleet, was designed by noted naval architect Frank E. Kirby and built in Wyandotte at the Detroit Shipbuilding Co. It made its maiden voyage in June 1900. According to Arthur M. Woodford’s Tashmoo Park and the Steamer Tashmoo, White Star bought the park property in 1897 and opened it as an amusement destination in June of that year. Before the Tashmoo was built, the Greyhound took excursionists to the park. In its heyday, Woodford says the Tashmoo carried 250,000 passengers annually. Even President Teddy Roosevelt came aboard during a 1902 visit. Eventually, the popularity of the automobile and the economic sucker punch of the Great Depression took their toll. The Tashmoo’s fate was sealed one night in 1936 when its hull plating was ripped open by an underwater obstruction, leaving it irreparable. The Put-in-Bay was then pressed into service, but the excursions dwindled and the park closed in 1951. Tashmoo may be long gone, but its name, an Indian word meaning “meeting place,” lives on in the Tashmoo Biergarten, a series of pop-up outdoor gatherings held in Detroit’s West Village. And last June, Tashmoo resurfaced when a diver found a bottle at the bottom of the St. Clair River. In it was a message, signed by two young Detroit women in 1915, which neatly summed up the recreational experience: “Having a good time at Tashmoo.”