TOLEDO (13abc Action News) - This is the Columbia, built back in 1902. It's receiving one of its last coats of white paint before making its final voyage to New York. In Boblo's heyday, the Columbia made countless between Detroit and the theme park.
"I remember trying to bug my parents 'we want to go on the big one boats," S.S. Columbia board member Ian Danic said. "Like look at that great big old steam ship. I want to go on the steam ship.'"
Steam power and wide hulls lost their luster but the S.S. Columbia project and Ironhead Marine are working to restore the shine.
"This project involved about 30,000 pounds of steel plate renewal on the hull," Ironhead president and owner Tony LaMantia said.
That steel stretched over thousands of rivets and 6,500 man hours on the local docks.
"There were several guys in the shop that had been up there and went on the boblo boats, probably this one," LaMantia said. "Everybody has fond memories of their youth."
"Getting on the big boats and enjoying the view of the water," Danic said. "And I remember the boat was very fast."
The boat needs millions of dollars of extra work before it eventually sails down the Hudson River.
"The Coast Guard used a word earlier on that was hugely frightening: 'the word asbestos.'"
"I think this vessel could accommodate about 2,500 passengers," LaMantia said. "And it was about a 90 minute trip each way from Detroit. The Detroit dock to Bois Blanc Island."
Thursday's open house helped gather an oral history of the boat and Boblo Island, stories which contain a dark stain.
In 1945, a black teenager names Sarah Elizabeth Ray was kicked off the ferry while on a graduation trip with her white classmates. She led a crusade to fight discrimination after throwing her refund back.
This pocket change refund, just 85 cents for the ferry ride, became the inspiration for millions of Americans. Bob-lo Excursion Company vs. the People of the State of Michigan became a precedent setting 1948 Supreme Court decision that led to case law for Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Rosa Parks case.