How the Straits Were Opened. - The following items from the log of Capt. John Brown, master of the steamer CITY OF BOSTON - first through the Straits of Mackinaw in 1873 - will be of interest: Left Detroit April 14 at 10:00 a. m. for Milwaukee. Arrived at Ft. Gratiot on the 15th at 3 a. m., where the vessel was detained by ice until the 18th, when at 6:55 a.m. she left, followed by the steamers CHAMPLAIN, ST. ALBANS and LAWRENCE. At 10 a. m. the vessel came to a light run of ice. Had ice to abreast of Point au Barques, where we arrived at 4:45 p.m. Found ice all the way across the bay. Lay to all night at about the middle of the bay, all four boats close together. On the 19th at 5 a.m. got under way and made to westward, passing through the ice in fields and cracks until within two miles of Harrisville. Found clear water along the west shore until abreast of Black River Island, where the BOSTON came to about twelve miles of ice. From that to Thunder Bay there was clear water. Ran into Thunder Bay ice and lay all night. Found the ice drifting very fast to the southward. Backed out and ran up to the anchorage under Sugar Island, all four boats lying side by side all night. April 20th, Capt. J. J. Knapp, of the steamer ST. ALBANS, was anxious to get under way and called us, the steamer CHAMPLAIN having her anchor up at the time; they left us and ran into Thunder Bay or as close as they dared; ice drifting down the lake. The vessels all met with a good deal of difficulty from ice in passing Point of Roche. The BOSTON was until 9:30 p.m. in reaching False Presque Isle, which was not yet reached by the other boats until the succeeding morning. The boats did not leave False Presque Isle until the morning of the 22nd, and met with ice all the way. At 1:45 p.m. the BOSTON came to solid ice, extending about a mile from Bois Blanc light in a circle to the north shore. Ten feet at a time was the most the vessel could make. The Boston was then turned around and got the LAWRENCE's bow against hers and cut a channel large enough for the four boats to lie in; the weather was cold, freezing very hard. At 9 p.m. of the 23rd the BOSTON got under way again and ran up to the northward of Mackinaw, where a hole was made in the ice, but the BOSTON was turned around again and worked her way stern first to within two miles of Mission Point, where she lay until 3 p.m. of the 25th. Then getting under way again the BOSTON went alone to the north of Mackinaw, where she found the ice quite soft, but lay to for the night. The next day the vessels got up steam and tried again. The whole of that day and of the two succeeding days was spent by the vessels in working a short distance through the ice, the CHAMPLAIN breaking her wheel on the morning of the 28th. On the 29th only a few miles were made through the ice, the ST. ALBANS pushing the LAWRENCE; not much head way was made on the 30th, but early on the 1st the vessels got clear of hard ice, the Boston being first to get into clear water, followed by the ST. ALBANS, and the LAWRENCE towing the CHAMPLAIN. Here the vessels met the downward bound fleet for Buffalo. The steamers TOLEDO and BROOKLYN came through immediately after us. The TOLEDO passed the BOSTON at Glen Haven dock, where the ST. ALBANS had already arrived. The BOSTON arrived at Milwaukee at 4 p.m. on the 3rd; started on the return trip on the 4th; passed more or less ice all the way through the straits, getting clear at about five miles below Old Mackinaw. The vessel saw but little ice after that, and arrived at Detroit on the 6th at 8:50 p.m.
Detroit Free Press
May 8, 1873
NOTE: The four wooden propellers that left Port Huron together all belonged to the Northern Transportation Co. The CITY OF BOSTON, at 431 tons, was slightly the smallest of the four. Their struggle underscores the importance of opening the routes in the exceptionally late spring of 1873. The trip from Detroit to Milwaukee would normally have taken a crack steamer 2 to 3 days, instead of 19 as described here.