SS Lansdowne

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Steamer Lansdowne
Steamer Lansdowne crossing the Detroit River in 1905
Builder: Detroit Dry Dock Company Wyandotte Shipyard
Yard number: 66
Launched: 1884
In service: 1884–1956
Fate: Scrapped 2009
General characteristics
Type: Railroad car ferry
Propulsion: Sidewheeler

SS Lansdowne was a railroad car ferry built in 1884 by the Wyandotte Shipyard of the Detroit Dry Dock Company. It was used as a steamer from 1884 until 1970 between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River. At the time of its construction it was the longest ship on the Great Lakes at 312 feet (95 m).[1] It was a sidewheeler, and at the time of its retirement it was the last sidewheeler serving on the Great Lakes, although in 1975 the sidewheel ferry Trillium returned to active service at Toronto after many years in layup.[2] Lansdowne was captained by Nick Saad from 1942 to 1969 until his retirement, when he was relieved by his son James Saad-Miller. Capt. Jim Miller was last to man her under her own power, when she blew the cylinder head of the port engine coming out of Detroit Slip on midnight watch in 1970. The engines were from an even older paddle steamer, Michigan, built in 1878. Lansdowne was thereafter used as a barge, pushed by a towboat, until her final retirement.

In 1981 Lansdowne was converted by Specialty Restaurants Corporation of Anaheim, California, to a floating restaurant and was moored just east of Hart Plaza in Downtown Detroit. A pair of Milwaukee Road "Skytop Lounge" railcars were brought onto part of its deck while the remainder was occupied by additional restaurant structure including a below-deck banquet hall. Patrons had a front-row view of the Detroit street circuit that hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix East.[3] The restaurant in Detroit shut down in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

In 1999 Lansdowne was towed to Erie, Pennsylvania, where much of its superstructure was removed and the Skytop Lounge cars were stripped to bare shells with the intent of making it a riverfront restaurant in Erie. It sank at its moorings on 25 December 2005 and the City of Erie issued an order that it be removed by 1 March.[4]

On 16 July 2006 it was removed from Erie and towed to an industrial part of the Buffalo River in Buffalo, New York.[5] On 30 January 2008 it again took on water during a storm at its moorings in Buffalo and began to list.[6] Specialty Restaurants' owner died in 2008 and whatever remaining initiative there was to restore Lansdowne died along with him. With pressure from Buffalo politicians to remove the "eyesore" from its shores, the Skytop Lounge cars were cut off their trucks and shipped to a railroad museum in Montevideo, Minnesota, and the rest of the vessel was broken up for salvage in April 2009.[7]


  1. ^ "Frank E. Kirby". A Tribute to the Bob-Lo Steamers. 1990. Archived from the original on 2010-04-19. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  2. ^ "Lansdowne of Windsor, a Detroit River ferry boat". Michigan in Pictures. 12 March 2007.
  3. ^ Jones, Casino (3 August 2008). "Detroit Grand Prix 1987- Course and Lansdowne at Riverfront". Flickr.
  4. ^ Hofius, Sarah (15 January 2006). "Lansdowne's time running out". Erie Times-News – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)).
  5. ^ "Lansdowne Ready To Leave Erie". Your Erie. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18.
  6. ^ "Storm Aftermath Raises Questions About Old Relic". WGRZ. 2 February 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-06.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Skytop hulks bound for museum" (pdf). Northstar News. Northstar Railway Historical Society. 40 (7): 3–4. July 2009.