A boat with 118 years of stories. Make yours.

2020 is a critical year for SS Columbia. We recently completed a laser scan of the deckhouse and interior hull spaces. With this highly accurate data, we can begin to map out exactly how the restoration will proceed. It will also allow us to create various “virtual restorations” so we can see how our decisions will translate onto the boat herself, and also help us fit in some of the modern amenities that will be required when she resumes operation as an inspected passenger vessel.

Other recent work on a stability assessment of the superstructure and a historic features report has given us the information we need to prepare the boat for the journey from Buffalo to New York City.

With the help of a Maritime Heritage Grant from the National Park Service and an Environmental Protection Fund grant from the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, we have a large portion of the funding we need for the work that needs to be accomplished before Columbia departs Buffalo.

To date we have raised and spent $4.6 million on Columbia‘s restoration. Our next funding goal is to raise the funds to get the boat to the Hudson River. We will need $2.5 million to hire an ocean-going ship to transport her via the St. Lawrence Seaway and down the New England coast – that’s a trip of some 2020 miles!

Once on the Hudson River, we will complete the restoration. We are still talking to several NYC and Hudson River locations to determine where that work will take place.

Sarah Elizabeth Ray: The Rosa Parks of SS Columbia

The SS Columbia Project presents

Sarah Elizabeth Ray: The Rosa Parks of SS Columbia

A Video Produced by Aaron Schillinger

 Click Here to View Film

Ten years before Rosa Parks was removed from a bus, Sarah Elizabeth Ray was removed from Columbia. Sarah’s experience (long unrecognized) is now known to have inspired Rosa’s. In June 1945, Sarah was aboard Columbia, the sole African American on a celebratory graduation cruise with her classmates. Sarah was taken off the vessel before the vessel left the Detroit River dock. Michigan law prohibited segregation and discrimination on public conveyances. With the help of the NAACP (and Thurgood Marshall), Sarah filed a law suit which would ultimately end illegal segregation in Michigan. The suit was appealed at every level by the vessel operator, the Bob-lo Excursion Co. before making its way to SCOTUS. On Feb 2, 1948, the People of Michigan (and Sarah) prevailed thus putting an end to discrimination and segregation on the Bob-lo boats. Columbia, built in 1902 and today docked in Buffalo, remains a powerful symbol of how an individual battled injustice and won.

On July 21, 2020 the SS Columbia Project organized a panel discussion following the film screening. The panel discussion was moderated by Detroit Historical Society’s Malika Pryor and featured filmmaker Aaron Schillinger, author Desiree Cooper, and historian and professor Victoria Wolcott. The event concluded with an update on the restoration of Columbia by Board Co-Chair Ian Danic and Executive Director Ann Loeding. Click here to watch the discussion.

SS Columbia has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a site “Where Women Made History”. Read more about Sarah Elizabeth Ray, the woman who integrated the Boblo boats, on WDET Detroit’s Public Radio.

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