Detroit Harbor Terminal Warehouse
Detroit, MI

The Real Story of the ‘Boblo Island Warehouse’

Where I come from, the word “warehouse” is usually preceded by “just another,” but Detroit is a place where you can find anything, even the status quo, neglected on a street corner. Maybe it’s that influence making me write about a warehouse on a history website, and maybe that explains why barbed wire laces the inside (of all places) of this lonely place.

A panoramic view of the Ambassador Bridge, Detroit River and downtown from the roof of the 1925 warehouse. Ready to move to Detroit?
A panoramic view of the Ambassador Bridge, Detroit River and downtown from the roof of the 1925 warehouse. Ready to move to Detroit?

I hesitate to even name this warehouse because it wears two badges, something nobody and nothing can do for long. Just ask Red River Milling/Montana Mills in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (link). It makes me wonder whether to ‘make a name for yourself’ twice is a double victory or half a defeat. This is Detroit Harbor Terminal—Boblo Island Dock to its friends, if it has any.

An impressive message for graffiti in a Detroit warehouse, but then again look at these steam pumps. Over-built and under-appreciated.
An impressive message for graffiti in a Detroit warehouse, but then again look at these steam pumps. Over-built and under-appreciated.

World War II put a lot of pressure on the Detroit River as a transportation route. It was the fastest way to get bulky military supplies—the ones that run on gas—out of the Midwest and over oceans. Between the factories (like Packard (link) and Fisher (link)) and the river, however, had to be some place to store the parts.

The terminal was one of seven warehouses built before and during the war to ship military goods efficiently, and the system worked. So well, in fact, that the Port of Detroit was hailed as “the arsenal of democracy.” In total, this one warehouse could store 230 small vehicles, 1,300 tools and 80,000 parts for 32 trucks, 40 trailers, and 11 motorcycles.

The warehouse building predates many of its WWII counterparts, having been constructed in 1925 at the height of 115 feet. In the 1990s it was used by the Boblo Island Amusement Park as a ferry stop, but it is unclear whether the building was abandoned before Boblo bought the property. Clearly the park was not using the warehouse for storage, but for its docking capabilities only.

It should come as no surprise that the City of Detroit would prefer the warehouse be demolished, although the funds to do so do not exist. Until that time, I am sure visitors will enjoy the view…

References »

  • Conway, J., & Jamroz, D. (2007). Detroit's historic fort wayne. (p. 9, 99). Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=_sanOKkhcoUC
  • Detroit harbor terminals building. In Emporis. Retrieved from http://www.emporis.com/building/detroitharborterminalsbuilding-detroit-mi-usa
  • Woodford, F., & Woodford, A. (1969). All our yesterdays: A brief history of detroit. (p. 357). Wayne State University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=qTyyA2MpIBMC