Richard & Jane Manoogian Ship Model Showcase

NOW OPEN in the Richard and Jane Manoogian Ship Model Showcase

The Detroit Historical Society is home to one of the largest collections of Great Lakes ship models in the country. Most of the more than 150 models are five or six decades old, while at least one dates to 1854. The ship models represent over 300 years of North American fresh water maritime history. In many cases, the models themselves are historic; in other cases they represent significant examples of technological advances that powered social and economic aspects of the region’s history.

The Richard and Jane Manoogian Ship Model Showcase is a changing exhibition space. Once a year, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum curators change the ships on display in order to display this significant collection.

The four models currently on display are:

Artist: C. Theodore McCutcheon, 2018
Loaned by the Artist

On August 27, 1818—two hundred and two years ago—Walk-In-The-Water, the first steam-powered vessel on the upper Great Lakes, arrived at Detroit. Built and based on the Niagara River, “The Steam-Boat”—there was only one, so that is what most people called her—carried 29 passengers on this first trip. The vessel traveled at about five miles per hour, and stopped near several towns on Lake Erie on the voyage.

The Walk-In-The-Water’s arrival had an enormous impact on the people of Detroit. A trip that could take weeks by sailing ship or wagon was reduced to less than two days. Detroiters no longer felt isolated on the frontier, and this important access from the East Coast encouraged an explosion of immigration and commerce in the town.

It is not known precisely what Walk-In-The-Water looked like. The vessel ran for three eventful years before being wrecked in a storm near Buffalo, without fatalities. Only one contemporary picture of the ship’s profile exists, commissioned by Mary Witherall Palmer of Detroit, and in the Detroit Historical Society Collection. Unfortunately, while the painter captures the stormy night well, his interpretation of the ship is unsophisticated.

The model seen here was recently completed by Ted McCutcheon, and loaned to the museum for the 200th anniversary. Ted understands naval architecture and is an experienced researcher, so this model represents the most likely interpretation of what the Walk-In-The-Water looked like. 

Artist: John C. Harrison, 1960
Donated by: Friends and relatives in memory of Ford E. Wagner, Sr.

The Alpena is a typical Great Lakes self-unloading bulk carrier or “laker,” placed here for comparison with the ocean vessel Prins Willem IV in the adjoining enclosure. Launched in 1909 by the Detroit Ship Building Company of Wyandotte, it served as part of the fleet owned by Wyandotte Chemical Corporation. In 1965 it was renamed the Sidney E. Smith Jr., and it served in the aggregate trade until a collision in 1973 resulted in the hull being scrapped. 

With its pilot house at the bow and engine room and crew quarters at the stern, the profile of this “laker” was common during the twentieth century. The girder-like conveyor assembly aft of the pilot house could swing to either side of the boat and dispense cargos directly to shore. Self-unloading machinery was widely used on the Great Lakes, and they made the lake fleet extremely efficient at handling cargos like taconite (iron ore), coal, sand and gravel.

Philo Parsons
Artist: Frederick W. Hyde, Sr., c. 1930s
Donated by: Frederick W. Hyde, Jr.

The Philo Parsons was launched in 1861 at the yard of Charles Hinman in Algonac, Michigan. It was typical of the fleet of moderately sized steamers designed to carry both passengers and freight. The vessel was originally owned by Michael and Patrick Kean, but within a few years became part of Selah Dustin’s fleet operating out of Detroit to western Lake Erie destinations.

One hundred fifty years ago, during the American Civil War, the Philo Parsons was hijacked by Confederate agents scheming to capture the USS Michigan and attack the Union prison camp on Johnson’s Island in Sandusky Bay. The plot was abandoned when the raiders suspected – correctly – that their plans were known to the enemy.

The Philo Parsons ended its career running from Chicago to towns along the Michigan shore. Caught dockside during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the ship burned to the waterline.