The Bob-Lo Boats are a pair of passenger-ferry boats that were used to transport people from the City of Detroit to Boblo Island. Boblo Island was an amusement park which ran from 1898 until 1991. Although most people called it Boblo Island, the amusement park was actually located on Bois Blanc Island, in Ontario, Canada. It lies just above the mouth of the Detroit River, about 18 miles south of Detroit.
Boblo Island Amusement Park attracted millions of Detroiters over the years. Boblo Island Amusement Park’s biggest features were: The Nightmare, Falling Star, Wild Mouse, Sky Streak, and Screamer rides, a Ferris wheel, a zoo, and a carousel were the signature attractions. To move visitors around the island, the park had even constructed a small railroad. In 1914, Henry Ford had financed and built a dance hall that was the second largest in the world, holding up to 5,000 dancers at full capacity.
For almost 85 years, Boblo Island Amusement Park was serviced by the SS Ste. Clair and the SS Columbia ferry boats. The Boblo Island Amusement Park was famous for those two steamers, the “Bob-Lo Boats,” made rounds between the Detroit Boblo Dock and Boblo Island main dock. Both of the boats were built in 1910 and they each could hold about 2,500 passengers each. The Bob-Lo boats stopped running two years before Boblo Island Amusement Park was closed in 1993. The SS Ste. Clair and SS Columbia were both sold in 1996. They were each sold to different entities, but both ironically enough, ended up docked on the Detroit River on waterfront property owned and operated by U.S. Steel, in Ecorse, Michigan.
After sitting stagnant since 1991, both boats were largely damaged by Michigan’s harsh elements and started to break down and rot away. For the first time in many years, both owners have been trying to restore the historic and iconic Bob-Lo Boats.
In 2014, the SS Columbia boat sailed for the first time since it was docked in 1991, making The SS Columbia the oldest passenger steamship still in existence in the U.S. The ship is owned by the SS Columbia Project, a 501c3 non-profit group. The group used a tugboat (Since the SS Columbia’s engines don’t work anymore) to tow the SS Columbia to New York. The group is going to fully restore the SS Columbia and bring it back to life. The group is aiming to make the SS Columbia a sightseeing attraction to troll the Hudson River from New York City to other locations.
As of 2015, the SS Columbia is in New York and is currently being restored. The SS Ste. Claire still sits unused on the private property of U.S. Steel. The owner plans on restoring the SS Ste. Claire as well, but nothing has happened yet.