S.S. Columbia Project seeks memories of Boblo boat

By: Elizabeth Scussel | C&G Newspapers | Published July 15, 2015

METRO DETROIT — Although the S.S. Columbia no longer calls River Rouge home, her legacy remains.

Built in 1902, the steamboat sits at a remarkable 216 feet long and 60 feet wide, and is powered by a 1,200-horsepower, triple-expansion steam engine.

She was designed to carry more than 3,000 passengers.

The S.S. Columbia transported hundreds of thousands of people from Detroit to Boblo Island from the time of her birth until the death of the amusement park in the early 1990s.

“When the amusement park on Boblo Island shut down, the boat just sat in that river for two decades,” said Liz McEnaney, executive director of the S.S. Columbia Project.

The S.S. Columbia Project team is working to restore the ship to begin the next chapter of her life.

This summer, the boat — which is currently harbored in the graving dock at Toledo Shipyard — will begin a journey to her new home in the Hudson River in New York.

Thus far, completed renovations include removal of shrink wrap and storm curtains; a scraping, sandblasting and surveying of the hull; identification of plates and rivets to be repaired; cleanup of the fuel tanks; and removal of debris from the main deck and cabins.

The cleanup of the hull included removal of 2 tons of zebra mussels by hand. According to McEnaney, the zebra mussels actually turned out to be a blessing.

“The zebra mussels were actually holding the hull together,” she said. “When they were all removed, it looked like swiss cheese.”

Once renovations are complete, the team hopes to offer scenic tours of the Hudson River Valley’s rich environmental resources and unique culture.

Excursion destinations will include the Hudson Palisades, Bear Mountain State Park, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, historic Olana and Albany. It’s a huge tourist initiative, McEnaney explained.

The team also hopes to use the ship as an event rental, as it has accommodations to seat 500 people for dinner — more than most dining establishments in Manhattan.

Activities on board will include cultural and children’s programming, and guided tours illuminating the integration of modern green technologies into the ship’s historic structure.

Onboard the ship, the team aims to create a unique educational exhibition, and as part of the initiative, the team is currently searching for residents who have fond memories of the historic ship — or who perhaps were part of the crew — to share their memories on camera.

“We want to have a film to include in our onboard exhibition that tells the story of Detroit. This ship has such ties to the city, and that history stays with the boat. We want to pay tribute to her time in Detroit,” said historian Emilie Evans.

Filming in the Detroit area begins Aug. 1.

Those interested in sharing their stories with the S.S. Columbia Project team can send an email to stories@sscolumbia.org. For more information on the mission, visit www.sscolumbia.org.