The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Post and Tribune (Detroit, MI), Sat., 11 May, 1878

Full Text
Completion of the "City of Detroit"
A Notable Addition to the Cleveland Line
The Finest Craft of its Kind on the Lakes
Full Description of this Magnificent Specimen of Naval Architecture

On the 10th day of June, 1877, while lying at her dock in this city, the steamer R. N. Rice, of the Detroit and Cleveland Line, took fire, and, before the flames could be extinguished, her upperworks were almost wholly burned off. The business of the line is such that it requires the constant employment of two steamers. The fire left the company with but one, and it became necessary to lease another until such time as a new one could be built or purchased. For a time the steamer Pearl, belonging to Mr. J. P. Clark, of this city, was put in use, but that boat being found too small, the steamer Saginaw, at that time running the route between Cleveland and Port Stanley, was leased, and continued on the line until the close of the season. Immediately after the fire, the company set about replacing the Rice. At first it was thought she could be rebuilt, and, after holding a survey, at which the loss was estimated at $43,000, it was decided to do so. Her hull did not seem to be injured in the least. Plans were soon changed, however, and a decision made to build an entirely new boat of wood. After this decision, and pending the commencement of work on the new boat, Mr. Carter, the company's secretary, became convinced that


would be the best, and accordingly laid his ideas before Mr. Owen, the president of the company, who empowered him, together with Mr. S. R. Kirby, to visit Eastern ship yards and ascertain what would be the best model for such a boat, for what she could be built, etc. Mr. Carter and Mr. Kirby went East and visited the famous Chester, Penn., ship yard, also those at Wilmington, Delaware, Philadelphia, and New York. Upon their return the gentlemen reported that to build a boat with iron frames, which would stand the wear and tear of many years, would hardly require the expenditure of more than 25 per cent. Above what it would cost to build a wooden boat.

The Board of Directors, upon this report, decided to build such a vessel as recommended. Mr. Owen and Mr. Carter were appointed a building committee, with full power to build the vessel complete. The committee at once entered in to


with the Detroit Dry Dock Company and Mr. Frank E. Kirby, the iron work to be built and put together at the Wyandotte yard. Mr. S. R. Kirby and his son Frank were engaged to make a model upon the dimensions given by the committee.

The gentlemen immediately went to work, and soon produced a model for a vessel of 235 feet keel, 250 feet over all, 36 feet breadth of hull, entire width of main deck 65 feet, depth of hold 14 feet, with a tonnage or carrying capacity of 1,094 tons. The hull was to be composed of 140 iron frames, angle irons to be 3x4 inches, and reverse angle irons to be 2½x3 inches. The floor frames were to be of angle iron and plate iron, 20 inches deep. The sister keelson, bilge, and side keelson, were also to be of iron.

There was to be a topside plate running the whole length of the vessel, 48 inches deep.

The deck plates were to be 42 inches wide. The deck beams were to be of 9 inch iron made in Philadelphia. The engine frame was to be of angle and plate iron, about 12x15 inches. The hull was to have three water-tight bulkheads, forming four compartments.

The angle iron for the frames was purchased of the Phoenix Iron Company of Philadelphia, and the plate iron from the Wyandotte Rolling Mills Company. The first shipment of iron arrived from Philadelphia, and


on the boat on September 7, 1877. It was pushed with such a vigor that, on the 21st day of December following, the hull was launched. On the day of her launch her average draft was four feet.

During the following week she was taken to the yard of the Detroit Dry Dock Company, where her hull was completed, and where the remainder of the work on her has been done. The entire frame is of solid wrought iron. The only wood about the hull is the covering and the deck plank, the latter being of Georgia pine, five inches thick. The plank, both on the outside and the deck, are secured to the frames by alternate wood screws and bolts, three quarters of an inch in diameter. The heads of the bolts on the planking are "let in" about an inch, and the holes plugged up.

The above describes, as completely as it is possible to do, the hull below the main deck. The next in order are


The engine is the same one that was in the R. N. Rice. It was built in 1867 by Fletcher, Harris & Co., of New York, for the Rice, and put in her when she was built. It has been thoroughly overhauled, and was set up by Mr. E. R. Mead, foreman of the company that built it 12 years ago. It is in every respect as good as new.. The cylinder is 62½ inches in diameter, and has 11 feet stroke. It is of the condensing beam pattern. The shaft connected with the paddle wheel is about 18 inches in diameter, of solid wrought iron, and turns paddle wheels 30 feet 6 inches in diameter.

The boilers were designed by Mr. Frank Kirby, and were built by Desotell & Hutton, of Detroit. They are of "Otis steel," purchased at Cleveland. They are two in number, each 12 feet shell, and 18 feet long, including the smoke box. Each boiler has three furnaces and three main flues of a size corresponding with the furnaces. Each main flue has three "Galloway tubes," and 135 return tubes or flues, four inches in diameter. These tubes are the only ones of the kind known in this country. These boilers are guaranteed by the builders to stand 75 pounds of hydraulic pressure to the inch.

The steam chimneys to the boilers are 20 feet long and 5 feet in diameter, reaching from the boilers through to the hurricane deck. They are constructed so that smoke and fire passes within the stack inside of them, thus doing away with any fear of danger, however remote, from fire.


are completely covered with sheet iron. The entire floor is of cast iron ¾ inch plates, so closely fitted together that not even a pin can pass between them. The boilers and steam pipes, cylinder and steam chimneys, are covered with the best hair felt with canvas back.


The Joiner work was designed by Mr. Frank Kirby, and is perhaps, to the eye, the most perfect of all parts of the boat. The contract for its execution was let to Mr. W. A. Morris, of Cleveland, and well has he performed his part. So long as the City of Detroit shall sail the western lakes will Mr. Morris have a monument to his skill. The same can be said for Mr. Kirby.


We now come to a description of the boat's accommodations. These begin with a set of 10 airy, comfortable rooms, in the stern of the boat, below the main deck, for the crew. There are two beds in each room.

On the main deck are the kitchen, pantry, cook's room, lamp room, and refrigerator, on the starboard side, and the deck hands', fireman's room, men's wash room, and large baggage room on the port side. Every one of these rooms is well supplied with all that is needful and comfortable.

Entering the boat at the after gangway, on one side will be seen the engine room, and on the other the main entrance leading to the cabin above. On the starboard side of this entrance are the rooms or offices of the steward and clerk, close together, and thus more convenient than when placed one on each side of the entrance. The glass in the window of each indicates by words "Steward's Office," and "Clerk's Office," which is which. On the port side of the entrance is what will be known as the "bridal chamber." This is composed of three rooms opening into one another, each room 8x11 feet. In these the carpets are of Marquette, the bedsteads of black walnut in the Queen Anne style, with lace and jute curtains heavily trimmed in velvet at the side. The doors into this bridal chamber lead from the main entrance.

Before one opens the door, preparatory to acceding to the upper cabin, the first view met with is the front of the main deck cabin, embracing the clerk's and steward's offices and the front of the bridal chamber. This front is relieved by columns of the Corinthian style, the caps being richly decorated with gold. Over the four windows are heavily carved cornices, also decorated with gold. The panel work is rich and really intricate, and is painted in the most tasty colors. Entering through the double doors, the passenger finds himself facing a broad, elegant stairway leading into the cabin above. On each side of the stairway is a narrow hall, leading back into the ladies cabin, a small but tastefully finished room, off from which there are six state-rooms, three on each side. Adjoining are wash-rooms, etc., all fully appointed. From this cabin there is also another stairway, leading into the cabin above. The furniture here is the same as in the after cabin above, and will be described further on.

Both the stairways above alluded to are of cherry wood, and the banisters and rails of solid mahogany, finished in shellac. The newel posts are of solid mahogany, with buttonwood panels. The front, or main stairway is six feet, and the opening through which it reaches the cabin 10 feet.


Ascending the main stairway, the after part of the main saloon is reached. The entire saloon is 200 feet from end to end, and 18 feet wide at its widest part, and about 15 feet high. The after saloon is 80 feet long, and the one forward 90 feet, the remaining 30 feet in the length of the cabin being taken by the enclosure about the machinery. The front of this enclosure is open, or only a heavy French plate glass divides the outside from the inside. This glass must be some eight feet high, and no less than six feet wide, and so clear as to almost deceive. Through it the working of the machinery can be seen. Just beyond the top of the main stairway is the railing around the head of the stairway leading from the ladies' cabin below. At the head of this latter stairway is a handsome pier glass, 48x80 inches, in a frame of black walnut of what is known as the Queen Anne style, with a heavy moulding on the top.

Overhead this part of the cabin is arched, it being relieved every two feet by trusses, supported at each end against the sides of the saloon by brackets. The roof terminates over the ladies' cabin stairway in a handsome semi-circular dome, the sides of which are set in stained glass. The sides, or saloon walls, the entire length of the cabin, are the same. They are relieved by panels and mahogany pilasters, with gilded caps. The panels reach from floor to ceiling, and are oval on top. The prevailing color of the paint is a light or French gray; the panels are of light pink, the whole being relieved by stripings, all combined presenting a most tasty appearance. The ceiling overhead is painted white.


presents in its general appearance much the same features as are noticed aft. About half the distance the roof overhead is arched and the other nearly flat. Where the division is made, looking from the after part of the cabin, is a large semi-oval face, on which is painted in a most artistic manner a view of the city of Cleveland taken from a point just abreast of the entrance to the Cuyahoga River. The picture shows the piers, lighthouses and the general features distinctive of the front of that city in an admirable manner. Just emerging from the mouth of the river, bound out into the lake, is the City of Detroit, apparently just starting for this city. Opening off the saloon are 60 state rooms, capable of accommodating three persons each. There are also fine wash rooms, smoking rooms, etc., situated about amidships. All the furniture in the staterooms, such as the front of the berths, washstand and window blinds is of cherry. Heavy lambrequins hand from the top, in front of the berths, of a pattern to match the carpets. In each stateroom instead of a chair, is a folding seat, which, when not in use, can be turned back against the wall, and thus be out of the way. The carpets are of heavy body and tapestry Brussels. The lower tier of berths are supplied with Hatch's spiral springs, and the upper tier with Howe's patent springs. The mattresses are of hair, and the bedding of the best.

All the door trimmings are of bronze. The entire cabin is heated by steam.


The furniture in the forward cabin is of a plain yet substantial kind. There are six black walnut dining tables, each capable of seating about 20 persons with comfort. The sofas and chairs are of the prevailing style - Queen Anne - of black walnut frame and silver maple seats. In the after part of this cabin, standing against the end of the partition dividing the cabin from the machinery, is a handsome inlaid etagerie (sic), filled with valuable plate, etc.

The furniture in the after cabin is most gorgeous. The sofas and chairs are of black walnut frame, covered with the best of dark maroon plush. In the center of the back are the monogram letters, representing "City of Detroit." The carpets are body Brussels, with borders to match.

At the windows, fore and aft, are curtains of raw silk.

In the after cabin is one six-light chandelier of polished gilt, and in the forward cabin two six-light and one four-light, all of polished steel and gilt.


The pilot house and texas rises directly over the extreme forward part of the forward cabin. It is a large structure, about 12 feet square. It is probably 60 feet above the water, calculating from a light water line. On each side of the pilot house, extending even with its top out to the edge of the hurricane deck, is a bridge, with railings on three sides calculated to allow the captain of the boat to go out upon, to get a better view of the position of the vessel when making landings. The ends of this bridge are supported by small pillars rising from the edge of the deck.

Back of the pilot house is the captain's room, 12 by 14 feet, richly furnished. Back of that are quarters for the mates, watchmen, and wheelsmen.


Under this head comes first the steering apparatus. This cannot be described. It is different from any we have ever seen, but to look at it, convinces one of its strength. It was designed by Mr. Kirby. The boat is also provided with an auxiliary steering apparatus.

The steamer carries two large regulation clinker-built life boats, capable of holding 40 persons each, one large wooden working boat, capable of holding 40 persons, one metallic life boat that will hold 30 persons, two life rafts of Clark's patent, besides all the requisite number of life preservers. She also has steam pipes for fire purposes in each of the four compartments in the hold, so arranged that each or all of the compartments can be immediately filled with steam. She also has a large ciphon pump in addition to her pumps, hose, etc., to be used in case of fire.


The custom house admeasurement of the boat is as follows: Register length, 234 feet; register breadt 36 feet; register depth, 23 feet; height between decks, 8 feet 2 inches. Her tonnage is: Under tonnage deck, 673.08 tons; between decks, 421.60 tons. Total tonnage, 1094.68 tons.

It must be remembered that the above figures are much less than the extreme actual ones, and are the one by which her carrying capacity is arrived at.


It is not proper to close the description of such a boat without giving the names of those who have contributed to her completion. First of all comes Mr. D. Carter, the secretary of the line. From the fact of h is associate, Mr. Owen, being prominently connected with the Dry Dock Company, that gentleman was unwilling to take a very active part in the boat's construction. The labor, therefore, was devolved mostly on Mr. Carter. The way he has performed his trust speaks for itself. He has watched and directed matters until the dwarf arose to a mighty giant, and rides the waters without peer on the lakes. Mr. Frank Kirby comes next. To him belongs the praise of her model, elegant outlines and thorough construction in every detail. Next comes Mr. W. A. Morris, of Cleveland, who constructed the cabin. We have already spoken of him.

Others have also done their part well. They are as follows:

Furniture and upholstery, Horace Turner & Co. of Detroit; carpets and oil cloth, Abbott & Ketchum, Detroit; linen and table furnishings, Newcomb, Endicott & Co., Detroit; mattresses & blankets, A. T. Stewart & Co., New York; chandeliers and lamps, Wm. (illegible)ge & Co., Boston; walnut and maple seat furniture, Gardner & Co., New York; adjusting and setting up engine, E. R. Mead, foreman for Messrs. Fletcher, Harris & Co., New York, builders; steam heating and plumbing, Holmes & Webster, Detroit; copper work and steam connections, Detroit Plumbing Works; painting and decorating and mirrors, Reid & Little, Detroit, under the supervision of Mr. G. A. Whitney, their foreman; canvas for decks, cordage and ship's colors, H. D. Edwards & Co., of Detroit.


The entire cost of the boat will reach $160,000. This is a large sum, but when one looks at the result, it is easily seen where it is put. Everything that is needed to add comfort, solidity and durability is found, and the best of the kind in every instance been purchased.


Master, Wm. McKay; first officer, Kenneth Finlayson; second officer, Archie McLachlan; chief engineer, John Crockett; second engineer, Robert Stage; second assistant engineer, _____ Tracy; clerk, James Menzies; steward, Thomas R. Ryan. Mr. Ryan is probably the veteran steward of the lakes.


This morning the boat will be brought to the foot of Shelby street, and this evening between the hours of 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock, a grand reception will be held on board, by the managers of the line. Upwards of 1,500 cards of invitation have been issued.

On Monday at 10 o'clock a.m., the boat leaves on her first trip to Cleveland.

Media Type:
Item Type:
A fairly detailed description of a Great lakes overnight passenger steamer of the late 1870's. The boat, CITY OF DETROIT (US#125662) was one of the very few sidewheelers of composite construction ever built. She was named CITY OF THE STRAITS in 1893 and served the D & C until sold in 1914. She was changed to a barge the following year, a schooner barge in 1918 and a Diesel motor vessel in 1928. She was abandoned at the head of Bois Blanc (Bob-Lo) Island, Detroit River, in 1948.      
Date of Original:
Sat., 11 May, 1878
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Post and Tribune (Detroit, MI), Sat., 11 May, 1878