Arson Believed The Cause Of Keystone Blaze
By James Donahue
When fire swept three idled steamships tied alongside each other at Ecorse, on July 23, 1932, it destroyed
the once fine passenger liners Keystone and Dover and left the third vessel, Enterprise, damaged.
Captain William Nicholson, president of the Nicholson Erie Dover Transportation Co., his nephew, Charles
Nicholson of Port Huron, and five other men, Peter Mendis of River Rouge, Reuben Merrith of Detroit, San Palazzolo of Wyandotte,
ivereno Darin of River Rouge and Harold Hartway of Lincoln Park were arrested on charges linked the burning of the ships.
A news story said Mendis and Merrith admitted starting the fire and the others, except Captain Nicholson,
admitted their involvement.
Both the Keystone and Dover were operating as passenger and freight carriers between Detroit and various
Lake Erie ports. They were both older vessels and obviously laid up for the year in the midst of the Great Depression. The
news story said Captain Nicholson had collected $283,000 in insurance money following the loss of the two vessels by fire.
The Keystone was launched at Wyandotte in 1886 as the City of Cleveland. The 272-foot-long side wheeler
operated as a D&C passenger liner until 1906 when it was sold and named the City of St. Ignace. She was sold to Nicholson’s
shipping company in 1929 and given its final name, Keystone.
The Dover, also a side wheeler, was smaller at 196 feet, but it also had a history as a popular excursion
vessel on the lakes. It was launched at Wyandotte in 1890 and named the Frank E. Kirby. Operating for the Ashley & Dustin
Steamship Line of Detroit, it made regular trips between Detroit and Sandusky, Ohio. Later, when owned by the Detroit-Kingville
Line, it was named Silver Spray. Nicholson’s Erie-Dover Line gave the ship its final name, Dover.
Both ships were scrapped after the fire.