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Winter Crossing: 1900

Circa 1900. "Detroit River. Car ferry Michigan Central entering slip." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Circa 1900. "Detroit River. Car ferry Michigan Central entering slip." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Building a Model

I'm building a 1/87 model of the train ferry Windsor, and these pictures and diagrams have proven to be invaluable.

Thanks, Terry Jolliffe
Belle River, Ontario

Great Stuff

I love these pictures of the Detroit River railroad ferries. My grandfather worked on these boats when he first came to Detroit from Pennsylvania in 1919. I remember watching them shuttle across the river during my childhood in the '60s and '70s.

Does anyone know what that factory on the right is? Is it the Michigan Peninsular Car Co. (aka American Car & Foundry)? It seems to be in basically the right place on the west side of Detroit. My great-grandfather, on the other side, worked there.


I live in Amherstburg, about 20 miles downriver from Windsor. I love these photos of the Detroit River.

Detroit River

This is the Detroit side. The river flows extremely fast, and the ferry docks were set up so the boats always entered dock facing upstream. Michigan Central was built in 1884 by Detroit Dry Dock in Wyandotte, while Transport was built there in 1880. Both were cut down to barges by the 1930's. A nearly identical boat, Lansdowne of 1884, survived in steam until 1970 for CN/Grand Trunk, until she blew a cylinder head (I remember the shock among the Detroit trainwatching community at the time).

Her long survival was due to the limited size of the RR tunnels under the river, which couldn't handle hi-cubes and other large cars.

Lansdowne then became a floating restaurant, with two Milwaukee Road Skytop observation cars aboard. Recently scrapped in Buffalo.

I frequently went down to watch Lansdowne and an even older propeller ferry in the days of no security, "Sure, just be careful!"

The church might be in Windsor

It looks very much like Our Lady of the Assumption Church near the foot of Huron Church Rd. It is still there, presently in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge.

If so, the view is downstream.

Frozen in time

The sharpness of the broken crystal shards could kill a man, they stand pointed end up, ready to cut a careless worker or walker, like razor-edged beveled glass. Two men are seen, yet each is lost in their own solitary thoughts. Possibly thinking "damn, it's cold."


Does anyone know if the ferry is pulling into Detroit or Windsor? Any clue from the church in the distance?

Great photo

I am so impressed with the high contrast in the sky. If it were not clearly labeled as a scan directly from the negative, I would have assumed this was a print which had received a lot of attention in the darkroom.

This image is one of Shorpy's all time greats.

[All of the images on this site are adjusted for contrast in Photoshop. - Dave]

Final departure

It looks like they are taking boxcars full of the damned over the river Styx.

Jules Verney

Until you focus in on the rail cars, and the pictures resolves into the recognizable, there's a kind of Victorian Future-Shock quality to it.

57 summers later

Below is a scan of a 35 mm Kodachrome slide showing this same rail car ferry yard as it looked on July 6, 1957. The photo was taken from the deck of the Ambassador Bridge and its viewpoint is 180 degrees from that of the 1900 photo (the bridge was built during 1927-1929). View full size.
The church steeple seen in the distance on the 1900 photo is located in Windsor, Ontario. Here's a photo of it taken from the bridge deck just seconds prior to the one of the rail car ferry yard in Detroit.

Over the river

At about this time, my grandmother may have been on a sleigh on the frozen river, on the way back to Windsor from Detroit, smuggling back cotton socks. She would have been 10 years old.

Such was the family story.

Best. Photo. Ever.

I've been reading Shorpy regularly since sometime in '07 when I saw a link on either Boing Boing or Neatorama. This is abso-freakin-lutely the Best. Photo. Ever. Bless you, and keep doing what you do.

A ferry wonderland

"The Great Lakes Car Ferries" by George Woodman Hilton has another photo of the Michigan Central on page 35.

"Michigan Central"

This seems to be the same sidewheeler design as in the previous shot of a car ferry, the "Transport." The names (hard to see) are stenciled on a signboard over the wheelhouse.

Absolutely wonderful!

As a person who lived in Archangelsk city, I used to see a scenes like this many many times. I feel the atmosphere, I even can feel a smell of it. Wonderful! Just great!

Link & Pin

The center car seems to be fitted with a link & pin coupling. The Railroad Safety Appliance Act took effect in 1900 outlawing these hand crushers on railroads engaged in interstate commerce.

Interesting weather

Cloudy, with a 100% chance of thumbprints!

All aboard

I see the three sets of tracks, but would like to see the actual way they load and unload the box cars. I bet the guy smoking the pipe could have told us.


This is an extraordinarily beautiful photo. The black and white textures are remarkable. I can feel the cold air and hear the ice crunching as the ferry drifts in. The ghostliness of the image is echoed in the misty distant skylines, and the whole is anchored by the two figures.

What a composition!

Frigid Wonder

This is just a beautiful photo, of an otherwise thoroughly utilitarian scene, just barely romanticized by having train cars and a paddlewheeler as subject matter.

The texture in the broken ice at foreground, the impressionistic smoke, and mist in the distance -- Wow.


I'm getting frostbite just looking at this picture.

Who's with me?

Winter break on the Detroit River!

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