Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company

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Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company, often abbreviated as D&C, was a shipping company on the Great Lakes.


The main route was between Detroit, Michigan, and Cleveland, Ohio. Routes also lead to Buffalo, New York with the purchase of the Detroit and Buffalo Steamship Company in 1909. Charters and day-trips were also offered. Most scheduled sailings were overnight sailings, landing in the morning after departure. Each ship was painted with a black hull and white superstructure and white lettering. By 1949, the ships wore all-white paint with blue lettering. The popular line operated from 1868 to 1951 and is often referred to as the owner of many of the Great Lakes' best 'Floating Palaces' and 'Honeymoon' ships.


1920 Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company advertisement.

In its heyday, the D&C Line was among the most well-known shipping companies in business on the Great Lakes, with its vessels being among the largest and most palatial ever seen. Two of them, the SS Greater Buffalo and the SS Greater Detroit, were both built in 1923, and, being 7,739 tones and 518 feet (158 m) long each, were known as the largest side-wheeler passenger ships in the world. Frank E. Kirby was the noteworthy naval architect who designed many of the D&C ships. As ferry and cruise ships, all of the ships of D&C were a success, with various civic groups and companies often chartering each ship on account of their reputations for excellent services and good cuisine. Upon reaching Buffalo, happy honeymoon couples would connect to Niagara Falls. In the late 1930s, the increasing use of the automobile caused passenger numbers to slowly fall.

During World War II, the Greater Buffalo, along with the Cleveland and Buffalo Line ship SS Seeandbee, were both converted into training aircraft carriers for use on the Great Lakes. Many of the pilots that were trained on these domestic ships later fought in combat in the Pacific. In the meantime, the Greater Detroit and her fleetmates saw an increase in passenger revenues, with the ships being reasonably full as Americans rationed gasoline for the war effort and therefore chose to travel between cites on the D&C liners, among other lines operating then.

By the end of the war, revenues fell again. The Greater Detroit and her fleetmates, the City of Cleveland III, City of Detroit III, Western States, and the Eastern States, were all that remained. On June 26, 1950, the 390-foot (120 m)-long City of Cleveland III was struck abaft by the Norwegian freighter Ravenfjell, and was severely damaged. Five passengers were killed in the collision, with dozens injured. The two ships survived and returned to their ports, but this incident, along with the dramatic resurgence of the automobile and truck traffic trades, finished the company. The company was formally dissolved in 1951 shortly after their old harbor terminals were condemned by the city of Detroit because of old age, and by 1959, most of the line's remaining ships had been scrapped. The Greater Detroit and the Eastern States in particular had their wooden upper works set afire before their steel hulls were scrapped at the Steel Company of Canada.

The Western States, after finding herself laid up by 1951, was towed to Tawas City, Michigan on Lake Huron in 1955 to become a floating hotel. Overniter Inc. was her owner and the vessel was unofficially renamed Overniter. When the 'flotel' idea proved to be unprofitable, Siegel Iron & Metal Company of Detroit purchased her. After a dockside fire in 1959, she was scrapped by Michigan-based Bay City Scrap Company at the old Davidson Shipyard.

The Greater Buffalo, renamed USS Sable (IX-81), and the C&B Line's Seeandbee 500 ft (152.4 m) length overall, 485 ft (147.8 m) between perpendiculars,[1] renamed USS Wolverine (IX-64), were declared surplus by the United States Navy and were both scrapped in 1948.

One vessel built in 1883, the 203-foot (62 m) long and 807 ton City of Makinac, (later renamed in 1893 the State of New York under the Cleveland and Buffalo Line) was sold back to D&C in 1909 to run from Detroit to Saginaw and other nearby way ports. Early in her life, the ship served the famous amusement park Crystal Beach in Ontario, Canada near Buffalo, New York. It was here on Lake Erie she was best known. In 1936, she was retired, stripped of her upper fittings and structures and sold to the Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago for use as a permanently moored club house, with a new one-story structure being built on top of the older hull. The rebuilt liner, now renamed Florida, served well for these owners as their primary meeting locale. Only a fire in 1954 interrupted her stationary service, but, with repairs and the name Columbia painted on the old ship's bow, she endured further good use. In 1982, the Florida was sold for scrap. The larger retired railroad and passenger ferry MV Abegweit serves in the Florida's place.

The old City of Makinac was the last known vessel of the D&C Line to survive.

The line today[edit]

When the City of Detroit III was dismantled in 1956, Frank Schmidt bought the wooden fittings from the Gothic Room aboard the steamer and had the material shipped to suburban Cleveland. After his death, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle in the Detroit River acquired the woodwork and a part of the large and elegant room was preserved there as a reminder of the D&C Line's past glory days.

It was not until the arrival of the German HAPAG ship c.Columbus in 1997 that such large and well-accommodated overnight passengers ships had been seen on the Great Lakes.

Along with the Hudson River Day Line, the Georgian Bay Lines, Great Lakes Transit Company, Canada Steamship Lines, Fall River Line, Old Bay Line, among other lines, the D&C Line is considered to be among the major passenger shipping companies of America's inland and coastal water ways and as such was a people mover and a catalyst for the development of numerous towns and ports at a time when better automobile and trucking routes, along with larger bridges, were yet to be built and established.

Some notable steamships[edit]

Competitors, connecting lines, and other Great Lakes lines[edit]



  • Interstate Commerce Commission (1916). "Appenxix, Exhibit No. 1 (Rates Via Rail-and-Lake Routes)". Interstate Commerce Commission Reports: Reports and Decisions of the Interstate Commerce Commission (December 1915 to January 1916). Washington: Government Printing Office. XXXVII. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  • International Marine Engineering (1913). "Side Wheel Passenger Steamer See-and-Bee". International Marine Engineering. New York, New York: Aldrish Publishing Company. XVIII (6): 252–258. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 

External links[edit]