Belle Isle Ferry Dock, 1910

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

1910Years ago, while the Ste. Claire and Columbia carried passengers to Bob-lo, and the Tashmoo transported others to Tashmoo Park on Harsens Island, an additional group of steamers plied the Detroit River to spirit away pleasure-seekers to Belle Isle. Boarding at docks either at Woodward (pictured) or Third, Detroiters longing to get away from it all embarked on the Sappho, the Garland, and other boats destined for Detroit’s island park, where they might picnic, swim, play baseball, ride a canoe, or just enjoy the cool river breezes. Certainly, the island could be reached via car or bus across the Belle Isle (now MacArthur) Bridge, but what could be more leisurely or romantic than a ferry excursion? In their 1957 book Made in Detroit, Norman Beasley and George W. Stark described the singular allure of the steamers, which began service when Belle Isle opened in 1882: “All day long until late at night, the Belle Isle ferries traveled up and down the river. … The fare was ten cents, and if the passenger so chose he could ride all day long for his original dime. … In the dusk of evening, the ride back to the city was exhilarating. The lights in the scattered high towers gave dimensions to Detroit; the growing skyline gave a sense of growing importance.” The price was raised by a nickel in 1951, but the steamers wouldn’t last much longer. In 1957, the last two ferries, the Mascot and the Belle Isle, made their final voyages.

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