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Flyer of the Lakes
A century ago, most visitors to Put-in-Bay came on lake steamships. The steamers came from Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo and Cleveland with hundreds of passengers looking for a day’s outing at Put-in-Bay.
The SS Put-in-Bay was the steamer that ran the Detroit, Put-in-Bay, Cedar Point route everyday during the summer season. It left Detroit in the morning with passengers who had the option of being dropped off at Put-in-Bay or continuing on to Cedar Point. In the afternoon, the Put-in-Bay would leave Cedar Point, stop at the island and pick up those who were dropped off in the morning and then return to Detroit. This went on for 38 years between 1911 when the Put-in-Bay was launched in Detroit and 1949, its last season of running the route.
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the ship’s demise. On October 3rd, 1953, the Steamer Put-in-Bay was hauled to Lake St. Clair where the wood superstructure was set ablaze so it would be easier to scrap out its steel hull and other non-burnable parts.
Built by the Detroit Shipbuilding Company, the Str. Put-in-Bay was designed by Frank Kirby and was a part of the Ashley & Dustin steamer line. She was launched on March 25, 1911. An eight year old youngster named William McFall Heyser broke a bottle of champagne over the bow which had been made in Sandusky. According reports at the time, there were thousands of people gathered at the Wyandotte shipyards for the special occasion.
Almost three months later on June 17th, the propeller-driven Put-in-Bay had a ceremonial welcome at the place for which she was named. Cannons boomed, cheers went up and the applause was deafening as the new steamer came into the harbor under the command of Captain A.J. Fox, an islander from North Bass.
The Put-in-Bay was 240 feet long and had a 58-foot beam, featured four decks, and could hold over three thousand people. There were lounges, lunch and rooms, cabins and private parlors. Passengers danced in the steamer’s ballroom to the music of orchestra leader George Finzel. She was powered by a 2,950-horse power, four-cylinder, triple-expansion steam engine and four coal-fired Scotch boilers.
In an advertisement from 1918 the round trip fare was seventy cents for weekdays, and $1.10 for Sunday excursions. Adjusted for inflation, that’s just shy of $15 and almost $23 respectively in today’s dollars. In 1940, the fare on weekdays from Detroit to Put-in-Bay was 85¢ for adults (about $18 today) and 40¢ (about $8.50) for kids. Organizations could charter the Put-In-Bay for moonlight dancing excursions for $300 for 1,000 people. She also could be chartered for special day and evening trips during the summer.
The Put-in-Bay docked at what is now the Jet Express Dock. Over the years, thousands of people came from Detroit to visit the islands. For many years, there was a special day set aside for African American to visit the island. Back in those days there was a lot of segregation in society. At the end of each season, islanders would gather there for a final sendoff just like they do on Labor Day at the Miller Boat Line’s Lime Kiln Dock. Back in those days, Labor Day was truly the end of the tourist season.
After World War II more families had automobiles for traveling where and when they wanted to and new governmental regulations for ships and crew became the death knell for the steamship era on the Great Lakes.
When the PIB/Cedar Point run was abandoned, the steamship was sold and put on the Detroit-to-Port Huron run, with stops along the way. She stopped running in 1951.
In May 1953, she was sold for debt by the U.S. Marshal for scrap. On Oct. 3, 1953, she was towed out into Lake St. Clair and set ablaze, in order to make it easier for wreckers to get at her steel skeleton. Her hull was scrapped at River Rouge, Michigan.
If you are interested in the history of the Bass Islands, you can find much more information at the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum located next to the PIB Town Hall parking lot. Ask about becoming a member of the group while you are there.
The previous piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. To subscribe please visit the Put-in-Bay Gazette subscription form. This piece of Put-in-Bay journalism has been provided to putinbayohio.com courtesy of the Put-in-Bay Gazette, Put-in-Bay’s only local newspaper. Visit their website putinbay.news for more information and to subscribe!