Grosse Ile Depot, Michigan Central Railroad

Near the intersection of Grosse Ile Parkway and East River Road on Grosse Ile

You probably are surprised to see a railroad station in this location.  It is on the eastern shore of Grosse Ile, apparently facing Canada.  There is a longer story to tell about passenger and freight transportation.  To get goods from New York or Boston to the Midwest was quite a challenge until a rail line was completed across northern Ohio in the 1880s.  The geography of northern Ohio included many extensive swamps, making it costly to build a rail line.  It was also necessary to build large expensive bridges across both the wide mouth of Sandusky Bay and the Maumee River.  Capital to do that was not readily available, so freight and passengers from the East Coast could either travel across the Allegheny Mountains on what became the Pennsylvania Railroad, or more frequently, across New York State, into Ontario near Buffalo and then to Windsor where passengers and freight cars were put on ferries to bring them to Detroit. 

There was completion to attract this profitable business.  The Canadian Southern Railroad was an Ontario firm that shipped freight and passengers across the southern tier of that province.  They thought that they had an excellent idea for maximizing profits.  Construct a branch line from its main line across southern Ontario to a point near present-day Amherstburg.  Then put freight and passengers on ferries to cross the Detroit River that was narrow at this point. It flowed rapidly, meaning that it would seldom freeze in winter.  The ferries would terminate in Grosse Ile where trains would take freight and passengers to the Michigan mainland and on to the Midwest.  This involved constructing ferries and then building a three and one-half mile rail line from Grosse Ile into what is today Trenton, Michigan, but was known then as Slocum Junction.  At that point, the Canadian Southern made connections with the several lines running from Toledo to Detroit.  By 1873, the Canadian Southern Railroad completed this Grosse Ile rail line.  The ferries actually docked at Stony Island.  This is the uninhabited small island immediately east of the current station.  Thus the Canadian Southern had to build two bridges—a short one to connect Stony Island to Grosse Ile and a much larger one to link Grosse Ile to the Michigan mainland.

The Canadian Southern built a frame station on Grosse Ile, an engine house, and ancillary facilities for their steam engines and equipment.  They also established a large cattle yard so that Canadian cows could be refreshed for their further journey in the States.
The Canadian Southern ran into financial challenges and was purchased by the much stronger Michigan Central about 1880.  That railroad transferred passengers and freight across the Detroit River at Detroit and saw little need for the ferries that operated between  Amherstburg to Stony Island.  Their regular service came to an end in 1883, but occasionally when the Detroit River was frozen in Detroit during the winter, the ferries shifted down to Grosse Ile and transferred passengers and freight there.  This operation was abandoned  by the Michigan Central Railroad in 1888.

The Michigan Central operated passenger and freight trains from Grosse Ile to Detroit.  In the 1890s, they operated two round-trip passenger trains daily.  I have an Official Guide of the Railways  for January, 1910 in front of me.   It shows weekday departures at 6:55 AM and 3:30 PM for the Michigan Central station in Detroit, with return trains scheduled for 12:55 and 4:55 PM.  After the population living on Grosse Ile grew, the Michigan Central Railroad increased their service to three round trips in 1909.  Travel time from the station you see to the magnificent Michigan Center Station on West Vernon was about one hour.   In 1913, an entrepreneur built the toll bridge that continues to operate at the northwestern corner of the island opened for business.  This reduced the use of the commuter trains and they were terminated in January,  1924.  The Michigan Central continued to offer freight service to Grosse Ile until the Depression began in late 1929.  Grosse Ile Parkway is laid upon the former rail right or way and this helps to explain why it is straight and flat.  The free bridge that links Grosse Ile Parkway to the mainland is at the location of the former Canadian Southern/Michigan Central Bridge.  I do not know if the current automobile bridge is the one that the Michigan Central used or a more recent bridge. There was a rail station on the west side of the island called the Sunnyside Station.  I presume that this was a small frame building that no longer exists.  I have never seen any pictures.  I have also read that if you look very closely, you can find pilings that the Canadian Southern put in place in 1873 for the bridge linking Grosse Ile to Stony Island.

Date of Construction: 1904
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P 25,380  Listed May 20, 1982
State of Michigan Historic Marker:
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
Use in 2009:  This building is now the Gosse Ile Historical Museum
Website for the Grosse Ile Historical Society:
Photograph:  Ren Farley; August 3, 2009
Description prepared: August, 2009

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