Tashmoo Under Power

Adventures of the Steamer Tashmoo


When I was a child I recall an aunt talking about an excursion on the popular passenger liner Tashmoo about a week before the vessel struck a rock and sank on the Detroit River.


It happened during moonlight excursion, with about 1,400 passengers on board, on June 18, 1936.


The vessel was chartered that evening by the Pals Club of Hamtramck. The cruise took the boat south to Sugar Island near Grosse Ile, then as it was turning for the trip home, struck a submerged rock at the mouth of Sugar Island Channel.


The passengers, who felt the shock, were told there was engine trouble. But it was worse than that, Water was pouring through a hole in the hull faster than the pumps could handle it. The engine room crew found itself stoking the boiler fire while standing in waist deep water. The ship was sinking.


Capt. Donald MacAlpine called for full speed ahead and succeeded in docking at the Brunner-Mond Co. coal wharf at Amherstburg, Ontario in time. The passengers and crew got safely ashore before the steamer settled in 18 feet of water.


The wound was mortal. The Tashmoo's days of glory on the Great Lakes came to an abrupt end that night.


The steamer was launched right at the turn of the century by the White Star Line for river excursions between Detroit and Port Huron with regular stops at Tashmoo Park. That was a popular summer resort opened in 1897 at Harsens Island near the mouth of the St. Clair River.


The park became a special attraction for both Detroit and Port Huron residents. It offered picnic tables, a baseball diamond, swings, rides, a casino and a large dancing pavilion.


The first liners to service the park were the old Darius Cole and the Greyhound. When the Tashmoo went into service, it was soon joined by the liner Promise for regular river service to and from the park.


The Tashmoo was the more popular of the two boats. It was driven by two large paddlewheels on her sides that gave the vessel a special appearance. Not only that, her owners were soon boasting that the boat was among the finest, if not the fastest steamer on the lakes.


The boasting soon led to a $1,000 bet between the owners of the Tashmoo and the City of Erie, a Cleveland-based steamer owned and operated by the Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Co. Held in June, 1901, it was dubbed The Great Race by area newspaper editors. Thousands of people lined the shoreline of Lake Erie to watch as the two steamers charged past, black smoke billowing from their stacks, on a 100-mile course from Cleveland to the lighthouse at Erie, Pennsylvania. The City of Erie won the contest by just 45 seconds.


There was one other interesting event in the life of the Tashmoo. That was the day on Dec. 8, 1927, when a powerful winter storm tore the vessel loose from its moorings on the Detroit River and sent it on a wild trip down river with nobody on board.


Before tugboats could get up steam and give chase, the Tashmoo collided with the Promise, moored nearby, then sailed on until crashing into the side of Belle Isle Bridge. Even after the tugs got a tow line on the runaway steamer and started bringing it back to safe quarters, the vessel broke away a second time. It was stopped just short of striking the bridge a second time.


Winds were clocked at about 60 miles an hour during that storm.


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