Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Mariners' Church

Mariners’ Church was established in 1842 with money willed by Julia Ann Anderson, the widow of Fort Detroit commander Colonel John Anderson. She specified that her lot on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Woodbridge Street in Detroit become “a site for a Mariners’ Church…” specifically to watch over the spiritual well-being of sailors and the greater community. These sailors were often marginalized and treated as outsiders, so she also specified that it be a stone church, with “forever free” pews. Since sailors often could not afford pew rentals or give sufficient tithes to maintain the parish, the will stipulated that stores be designated for the ground floor to provide rental revenue.

The plans and drawings of the “Perpendicular Gothic” building were made by C.N. Otis, a Buffalo, New York architect, and in 1849 the Gothic Revival stone structure was constructed on the site of Anderson’s mansion. Scattered throughout the church are paintings, photographs and ship models that symbolize its maritime history. The various stained glass windows, by the J & R Lamb Studios, depict mariners and symbols of the Great Lakes.

In 1955, Detroit’s plans for a new civic center called for the demolition of the church. Instead the 3000-ton building was moved 880 feet east to its current location. During the move, workers discovered a tunnel under the building from its days as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Episcopal Church sought to overturn Mariners’ continuous legal independence free of denominational ties in the 1980s but was defeated twice. Mariners’ has continuously served the community as a church in the Anglican tradition, governed independently.

On November 11, 1975, former rector Bishop Richard Ingalls Sr., rang the church bell 29 times in memory of each sailor lost in the sinking of the giant ore carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. This act was immortalized in the ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. Today, Mariners’ Church conducts an annual Great Lakes Memorial Service each November, with the ringing of the bells.



Photo showing the Mariner's Church, 1960 - 2012.022.268

Mariner's Church postcard, 1910 - 2012.020.092

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