In this episode of CuriosiD, we answer the questions…
“What is on Boblo Island today? And what happened to the Boblo boats?”
The short-ish answer
Boblo Island was an amusement park located in the middle of the Detroit River. The park had roller coasters, stuffed mascots, carnival games and more. Part of what made Boblo so special was that it was only reachable by boat. Two large steamboats, the Columbia and the Ste. Claire, ferried passengers there, providing another memorable part of the experience. The park was open for nearly 100 years and closed down in 1993.
In 1994, a Detroiter named John Oram purchased Boblo Island. He planned to turn it into an exclusive residential community but didn’t get very far before going bankrupt. Ownership of the island was transferred over to Dominic Amicone, president of Amico Properties, who continued developing the island for residential living. Today, there are more than 150 condos, townhomes and single-family houses on the island with plans for about 200 more to be built as part of Bois Blanc Canada. There are no longer any rides on the island, but a handful of abandoned structures remain, including the dance hall, the theatre, the bumper car building, the boat dock tunnel, bathrooms and the powerhouse, which was once the island’s only power source. Boblo Island also still has structures that pre-date the amusement park, a lighthouse from 1836 and a blockhouse from 1839 that once accommodated soldiers.
As for the Boblo boats, the SS Columbia is being restored in Buffalo, NY by a nonprofit that is working to turn her into a venue for culture and history docked in New York City. The Ste. Claire is currently owned by a metro Detroit-based doctor named Ron Kattoo. Kattoo’s brother-in-law, Stephen Faraj, is the ship’s restoration project manager and also a part owner of the ship. Their team is working to restore the boat to its former glory so that it can be a private dockside attraction, open to the public.
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In this episode:
- WDET’s Laura Herberg travels to Boblo Island with a couple who run an AirBnB there. Together they drive through the existing residential community and explore what’s left over from Boblo’s past.
- Herberg also attends a party celebrating the opening of a new road that will make way for more houses on the island.
- Herberg and listener Ed Van Slambrouck step onboard the Ste. Claire, one of the steamships that used to ferry passengers to the island.
See photos of Boblo Island
See photos of the Ste. Claire
Meet the listener
Ed Van Slambrouck is an engineer living in Utica. He says he was probably about five years old when he got to visit Boblo Island. Van Slambrouck remembers getting off the boat and going to a pavilion to eat lunch.
“Other than that, my memories of the actual island are very, very small. More of my memories are with the boat.”
He remembers holding on to a prop steering wheel that kids could take photos with, “and I remember thinking that I’m steering the ship, I gotta be careful.”
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