Friday, February 18, 2011

River Cruise

This commemorative paperweight sat on my Mother's vanity throughout my early childhood. I remember her telling me that Grandma & Grandpa Derr had ridden on that ship. Years after my Mom passed away my Dad explained that my Mother's parents had gotten the item as a souvenir of a trip they had taken. I had failed to question my Mom further when I was young and upon asking my Dad, later, if he knew any of the details of their trip, he said that he thought it was a steamship that made river excursions. How romantic that seemed to me, especially since my Grandparent's story was so tragic. He died after only three years of marriage, with my Mom only 17 months old, and my Grandma expecting another child.

Thomas Harold Derr and Mabel Olive Stanton were married on July 28, 1915 in Chester, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Both were 20 years old. He worked as a Miller, and she as a Mill Hand. I am told it was a Grain Mill, and perhaps this is where they first met. Not knowing how long they may have known each other before exchanging rings, and assuming that they had waited until after their marriage to take a trip together, the cruise must have occurred after July of 1915.

In my daydreams I saw them eloping, possibly being married aboard ship. Not knowing then that they were married in Pennsylvania. Or maybe just a short Honeymoon after a hometown wedding, before heading back to work at the Mill. They may have just saved their money after the wedding to take a longer belated trip together. Since there was no mention of my Mom on the ship it must have occurred before her birth in August of 1916. Most likely in late summer of 1915 or in the spring of 1916 before Grandma was too far along in her pregnancy, yet past the morning sickness stage.

The luxurious ferryboat SS City of Detroit III offered elegance usually found only in an ocean liner.

The City of Detroit III first set sail in the season of 1912 and was the largest steel-hulled passenger side wheeler on the Great Lakes at that time. It must have been quite an event for my Grandparents to board the ship only three years later, while it still must have been considered quite an amazing attraction. 

The elaborate interior of the ship featured candelabras, balustraded staircases and museum quality paintings.

 With twenty-one lavishly furnished parlors and four-hundred and seventy-seven well dressed staterooms, this gigantic drifting hotel was furnished with all the newest enmities and was considered the belle of the Lakes. Imagine Harold and Mabel, two young mill workers, in love and newly married. Even if only standing at the rails for a short ferry down the must have been exciting.

The dining room on the City of Detroit is set up for a cruise.

I wonder if they were able to enjoy the fancy cuisine and exceptional service offered on board, perhaps lunch during a day trip if nothing else. An afternoon spent together in comfort and style...

The ship's Gothic Room.

They say that Honeymooners often stepped aboard the vessel at Detroit or Cleveland and then traveled to Buffalo where transit was available to Niagara Falls. Quite an adventure in those days, and an actual cruise around the Great Lakes would have been amazing as well. I wish I knew the circumstances and how it made them feel. 

The steamer City of Detroit III offered elegance in its trips between Detroit and Windsor
and also offered longer luxury cruises throughout the Great Lakes.

I wish the ship was still in service, I would love to re-create what I imagine their trip might have been like and would hope to make it the most extravagant cruise they could have dreamed of.


There are still short 2-4 hour touring or dinner cruises sailing the Detroit River, but nothing in comparison to what a run on the City of Detroit III must have been like.

Information on current Detroit River Cruises can be found here.

Information on other available River Cruises can be found here.

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files with captions of the Detroit News.)



  1. This is beautiful! Thank you for the illustrations via pen and the archived photos.

    To life,
    ~c. welch

  2. Carol, Thank you for the kind comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. All the best, Rhonda

  3. I remember that paper weight. Thanks for the background information.

  4. Thanks, Ray. Appreciate the comment.