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Thursday, December 29, 2022


by Sam Fitzpatrick



Image: Sacramento (Bay County Historical Society Collections)

The Sacramento was launched on July 24, 1895, at 4 pm, and is the sister ship to the Rappannock, launched not too long beforehand. Both ships were 303 feet and had a 43-foot beam with a 26-foot depth. For power, the Sacramento had a triple expansion steam engine with a 20-inch diameter cylinder. It was equipped with two boilers to furnish steam. According to the West Bay City Times, this would be the last ship launch of the year at the Davidson’s shipyard.


Image: Sacramento, 1895 (Bay County Historical Society Collections)

Throughout its career on the inland seas, the ship was retained at the Davidson Shipyard. The ship was rebuilt twice, in 1905 and 1918. The Sacramento was continuously used in the Davidson fleet and never sold nor renamed. It hauled items such as grain, coal, and ore throughout the Great Lakes.

Few incidents occurred to the ship, however one such incident during the winter of 1926-1927 sticks out. On November 15, 1926, the steamer Cottonwood became stranded around Coppermine Point on Lake Superior. The crew abandoned the ship and left the Cottonwood frozen in the ice. This winter’s freeze was recorded as one of the more severe, some even referring to it as “The Big Freeze”. Hundreds of ships became trapped in both the Upper and Lower St. Mary’s River. The Cottonwood was left stranded until spring when the ice melted. The Sacramento was called to assist in the salvage operation. By May 30th, 1927, the Cottonwood was freed and towed to a dry dock for repairs.


Image: Sacramento, 1953 (Bay County Historical Society Collections)

While the pride of the Davidson fleet, the Sacramento sat idle during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, much of Davidson’s fleet was abandoned. During one season, only 67 out of the 390 Great Lakes vessels available were used, including the Sacramento. It was mothballed at the Davidson yard in 1930 and never used again, and eventually sank after suffering from arson fires and several floods. By 1936, the ship looked to be in rough condition. By 1939, the ship had been badly vandalized, and much of her wood had been taken for scrap. The remains of the Sacramento burned in 1953, and in 1976 it had been sunken into the mud.

The Davidson Shipyard was acquired by the City of Bay City for the expansion of Veterans Memorial Park. The remains of the charred shipwreck, being of distinction as an ‘on-land’ shipwreck, were bulldozed, razed, filled in, and covered with landscaping. The slip was kept intact and it can still be viewed today as a part of the park. The rudder from the Sacramento has been preserved and still sits in the park as a nod to the area’s past as a shipyard.


Image: Veteran's Memorial Park, 2022 (Sam Fitzpatrick)

Before becoming a park, Davidson’s yard was humming with activity and workers. A slip was situated along the riverbanks and opened into the Saginaw River. This slip is where many ships were built and worked on. Today, this slip is still in existence and is now a part of Veteran’s Memorial Park. The slip is 60 feet wide and 435 feet long, and you can find a pedestrian bridge crossing it, many geese nearby, and joggers and fishers.

The large preserved wooden rudder from the Sacramento is just south of the slip. All around this area and along the river are interpretive signs talking about James Davidson’s shipyard and the remains of his fleet just beneath the water a few feet from the park (above image show one sign covered in snow). In October of 1981, the City of Bay City received $27,000 in federal funding for further development of Veterans Memorial Park--$12,000 of which was used to establish the monument out of the Sacramento’s 7-by-22-foot rudder. This rudder was salvaged a few years prior during filling operations for the city sewage project.

Other former ships of the Davidson fleet that can still be seen during lower water levels are the wooden schooner barges Montezuma, Matanzas, Grampin, Granada, and the steamer Shenendoah in the Saginaw River. The Schooner-barge Chieftain lies on the east side of the river to the south of the former Cass Avenue Bridge.

Sacramento Ship STATS

Hull Number: 69

Length: 308.2

Breadth: 42.6

Depth: 21.2

Gross Registered Tonnage: 2,380

Registry Number: US. 116682

Top speed: 12.7 knots\

Engines: 20”, 33” 54” Diameter x 42” Stroke Triple Expansion

Engine Builder: Frontier Iron Works in Detroit, Michigan 




Maritime Bay County by Ron Bloomfield

Great Lakes Ships We Remember II by Rev. Peter J. Van der Linden in cooperation with John H. Bascom, John N. Bascom, Rev. Edward J. Dowling, S.J., C. Patrick Labadie, Edward N. Middleton, and the Marine Historical Society of Detroit

The Bay City Times, July 7, 1976

The West Bay City Times, July 25, 1895

The Bay City Times, November 24, 1996

The Bay City Times, August 19, 1982 


4:23 pm est 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Drawing on the Past: A Look at the History of the Bay City Central Depot & the Artwork of Terry Dickinson 

by David K Hohenstein


Bay City Central Depot by Terry Dickinson, 1974 

Our story begins in 1890, when this Depot and many other train stations were active centers of freight and passenger transportation. As the fledgling country grew so also the railways extended - stretching westward across the mountains, fields and plains of the vast land. Bay CIty, Michigan was a central hub with access to great forests, rivers and the undeniable Great Lakes. At the north end of Bay City, The Bay City Central Depot stood at First and Jackson Streets for over seventy years. The Depot was a modern accomplishment of function and aesthetic, notably one of the finest in the State. Its foundation was made of stone from Pointe aux Barques; its superstructure of Indiana vermillion sandstone and roof from Akron red stone. The interior waiting rooms were in finished red birch and oak.

CentralDepotPhotograph.jpeg The railroad company began as the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad. After a time it was renamed the Michigan Central Railroad, and finally New York Central. This Depot was one of eight in Bay City at a time that served passengers with transportation between Detroit, Jackson, Mackinaw City, Saginaw and likely more destinations. The building was grand, spacious and hospitable, with large waiting rooms, restrooms, a dining room and offices for employees of the railroad. The interior of the passenger cars were noted for their beautiful craftsmanship as well.

(Above Image: The Bay City Central Depot, photograph)

Despite all this, new technology and the expansion of highways eventually rendered these train stations, with all their comforts and class, obsolete. As the automobile and air travel infrastructure advanced over the decades, the railways, trains and their stations fell into disuse and decline. The Bay City Central Depot closed in 1958 and was demolished in 1964.


Ten years after the final fall of the station, local artist Terry Dickinson made this rendering of the famed Depot in charcoal and ink. It is a drawing on paper on-looking the depot at a distance from a position on the tracks. Dickinson would have seen this depot all but abandoned during his youth in Bay City. Here he drew the historic place almost ghostly in shades of white, gray and black. The picture describes a late winter night with none but one figure in sight. They are a gray silhouette marching against the cold under the lamplights burning white onto the snow covered ground.

(Image on left: -Terry L Dickinson) 

The curve of the tracks lead to and beyond the haunting solace of the depot, with its stark black tower, and further into the night. An apparition appears on the horizon. The brilliant light of an arriving or departing train engulfs the parked passenger cars, causing them to fade as if into another plane. The accuracy and attention to detail the artist used clues he was using photographic reference - as well as the fact that the depot was long gone by the time he was making this drawing.

Looking into Terry Dickinson’s career, it is clear he had a passion for American History, especially during the 1970’s when he was living and working in Bay City. He would have been in his thirties when he was teaching math classes for a living and began a life and career transition into professional art. In 1974 Dickinson started painting historically significant and patriotic murals on the walls of Bay City buildings. The first was on the north face of the Dunlop Building depicting the Liberty Bell. Terry’s first large-scale painting was a success. This was the first of at least twenty-four murals he painted (in some cases with help) in Bay City during the following two years, leading up to the Bicentennial Anniversary Celebration of the United States in 1976. 

Terry’s murals were so strong and popular his work spurred an initiative by Bay City Developers to coin Bay City “the Mural City” and a campaign was launched to attract tourism. There was an organized walking tour of the downtown and greater Bay City areas for residents and visitors alike to view the murals. Along with the hope of bringing newcomers, this propagated movement was also intended to inspire a celebration of national pride and celebration of America during hostile and difficult times.

Bay City’s history is one of rises and falls. It has been a center of various industries, all of which saw their days of growth, decline and resurgence. Among its streets and buildings one can see evidence of and an enthusiasm for the past. The city's murals and specifically the work of Terry Dickinson are no exception. Few, if not just one of his murals can be seen today - Camera Obscura 1769. Although new murals and painted signs have gone up since then, the faded remnants of old ones can be seen accenting the walls of the older structures and telling their stories. Like these old murals & signs, Terry’s drawing of the former Bay City Central Depot is a testament to the rich history of this city and to the ever-changing ebb and flow of culture and time.


Bay City Central Depot, Terry Dickinson, 1974

Bay County Historical Society Archives

Bay City Tribune

Bay City Times Archives

Lost Bay City, Ron Bloomfield


12:44 pm est 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

10 Holiday Gift Ideas to Help Support the Museum

The Historical Museum of Bay County has some wonderful gift giving options that may allow you to check off the "person who has everything" on your list.  The Museum Store is open Monday to Friday from 10 AM - 4 PM.  Enjoy 50% off most items until December 29. Members receive an extra 25% off.



2:07 pm est 

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