The story of Boblo Island

The park has been closed since 1993

DETROIT - Say the name "Boblo" to anyone who grew up around Michigan, and their eyes will light up.

Boblo (or Bob-Lo) sparks memories for many adults who spent summers riding the ferry to Boblo Island, visiting its amusement park or just enjoying a picnic.

The park has been closed since 1993, but the legend of Boblo is still strong.

The story of Boblo Island

In 1898, the Detroit, Windsor and Belle Isle Ferry Company opened up a recreation park on the Detroit River, about 18 miles southwest of Windsor.

The company was busy during the week, moving people and goods up and down the river. They created a destination to keep themselves busy on the weekend.

The 18-mile boat ride was carried out by the famous ships: the Columbia, built in 1902, and the Ste. Claire, built in 1910.

Boblo was originally named Bois Blanc by the French, but residents couldn't pronounce the name. The non-French residents called it Boblo, and the name was officially accepted in 1949.

The first amusement park rides were moving by 1910. The Whip was installed in 1920, which was a huge hit, essentially paying for itself.

In 1949, the island was threatened by bankruptcy. Windsor Mayor Arthur John Reaume wanted the island to be designated a National Park.

Instead, the island and steamships were purchased by the Browning family.

They transformed the island into an amusement park, including a coaster, Ferris wheel, fun house and more. 

A miniature railroad was built around the island in the 60s, along with a upgraded dock area.

The swan paddle boat ride was added in 1970, which became a fan favorite. In 1973, the Thunder Bolt coaster was built, which drew long lines.

The Browning Family sold the island in 1979, which led to several owners in the following years, including IBC and AAA of Michigan.

The 1991, the boats ceased their 81-year run, and the park closed in 1993. The rides were sold to other amusement parks around the country.

(Check out more Boblo history at BobloSteamers.com)

Preserving the legend

Uniquely Detroit's Alex Atwell featured the Ste. Claire, which was purchased last year by a couple of collectors and fans of Boblo.

Take a Boat Tour

Alex Atwell put together an awesome tour of the Ste. Claire, seen in 2016.

Vintage Boblo Boat (Video)

Memories of Boblo

Everyone has a memory to tell. Here are some we found on various blogs and forums:

I was one of the last generations of people who were able to enjoy Bob-Lo island amusement park. I was 7 years old when the ferries stopped running in 1991. To tell you the truth I remember the boat rides to the park more than the park itself. Getting to the dock in Detroit early in the morning, the anticipation of boarding the boat, the ride on the river, the views, the fact I could play an arcade game on a boat blew my small mind. What I remember about Bob-Lo Island specifically, the entrance coming off of the boat, one of the last times I went the Simpsons were the mascots and I met Bart and Homer. - Brandon

I am 73 years old and remember my parents taking me to Bob-Lo after picking me up at Willow Run Airport after a visit with relatives in Miami FL when I was 8 years old. what a fun and exciting place. - Bonnie

Oh! How I recall the fun times of going to Bob-Lo, with my sisters and brother. He was 20 years older than me. So when we went to the Island, we took a cab to the downtown docks to catch the first boat out and then we would return on the last boat. I can still feel the sun and the wind as one of the great boats took us to the Island. My favorite ride was the Log Ride, I thought it was the greatest thing of all time. - LJ

Loved going to Bob-Lo as a kid. In fact didn''t go as much as I would of liked to. My most vivid memory is the Sky Diver ride. Before I rode on it on the Island I had gone to a local fair and 3 other girls and I rode together on it and we laughed and really enjoyed it. Well later that same summer (1972) I went with 2 of my brothers, one older and one younger with our Mother. - Kathy G.

We kids were able to run up and down the stairs on the boat and go to the dance floor. It was in a time when the parents didn''t have to worry about the children. I remember the log ride, where we''d all get wet but would soon dry out running about, the carousel, and of course the roller coaster. Remember it was a time when girls wore dresses and not pants, so we sure had to be careful on the rides (check out the pictures how the girls were dressed). - Marva

I am 63 years old and I remember Bob-lo so well. I was born and raised in Wyandotte, Michigan. The boat would stop there to take people to the island for the day. There were several trips from Detroit each day, but only two stops in Wyandotte. One to pick up, and one to return people. - Sally

I am so sad every time I think about Bob Lo. It was awesome place. We went alot and when my family''s jobs had company picnic it would always be Bob Lo. Anyone remember how much fun the dance floor was and how beautiful the boats were. It was like a little cruise. - Mellissa M.

Sources: BobloSteamers.com, Water Winter Wonderland

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