Trouble On The City of Mackinaw
By James Donahue
The Detroit and Cleveland Steamship City of Mackinac was perhaps among the best known and remembered vessels of the
popular passenger fleet operating on the Great Lakes. It carried passengers to and from the popular Ontario amusement park
Crystal Beach on the Eastern end of Lake Erie.
Like all D&C boats, this one, launched in Detroit in 1883, was a side-wheeled steamship offering elegance and comfort
This 203-foot iron-hulled vessel was involved in at least one major disaster during its years on the lakes. Two men
died when the steamer collided with the tugboat Washburn on the Detroit River, at Detroit on the night of May 28, 1892.
As old news clippings told the story, the City of Mackinaw had just left the dock at the foot of Wayne Street, steaming
north up the river at the start of a regular trip to Port Huron and beyond when the steamer Majestic, assisted by the tugboat
Washburn also began moving out into the river on a planned trip to Chicago with a load of coal.
The officers on the City of Mackinaw had their eyes on the lights of the Washburn but failed to see the tug which was
operating from behind the larger steamship until the Washburn unexpectedly appeared and crossed the steamer’s bow.
The iron steamer struck the tug just abaft the beam, the jar throwing John Hurley, owner of the Majestic, and the ship’s
chief engineer, Tom Robinson, overboard. Both men drowned before rescue boats from the City of Mackinaw got to them.
The skipper of the Washburn grabbed the stem of the Mackinaw as the two vessels came together. He held on and successfully
climbed onto the steamer’s bow. The rest of the tug’s crew also survived. The tug drifted aground on the Canadian
shore before sinking in shallow water.
The City of Mackinaw was not damaged in the crash.
The steamer was among the smallest of the D&C fleet boats that followed. It operated successfully for the line
until 1893 when it was sold to the Cleveland and Buffalo Steamship line and given the name State of New York.
The vessel was sold back to D&C in 1909 and put on regular trips between Detroit, Saginaw and other ports in between.
After a long 53-year-long time of service the steamer was retired, stripped of its upper works and sold to the Columbia
Yacht Club in Chicago for use as a permanently moored clubhouse. The vessel was
given a new one-story upper structure and named the Florida. The vessel was damaged by fire in 1954. The damage was
repaired and the old ship was given a final name, Columbia.
Time and rust finally took their toll on the old ship and in 1982 it was sold for scrap.