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Waves of history: New picture book chronicles Bay City shipbuilding
By Tim Younkman   - 03/30/2009

Bay City Times

More Info on This Book: Maritime Bay County

Bay City's rich history, first in the lumbering industry and then automotive manufacturing, may obscure another legacy important to the community's development: Shipbuilding.

While the vast shipyards along the Saginaw River are gone, their impact on the region is remembered in a new book ''Maritime Bay County,'' by Ron Bloomfield, director of operations and chief historian of the Bay County Historical Museum.

The story of shipping and shipbuilding along the river is told in 125 pages of vintage photographs, accompanied by brief descriptions of life among the riverboat captains and construction magnates.

Compiling the materials for the book began with an idea a decade ago when the museum was creating a maritime gallery, Bloomfield said.

''Then I really got a lot of it in the past two years, some from material gathered for the gallery, some from our own archives and from outside collections,'' he said. ''I paid more interest in ships that were built here.''

He said creating a new collection of photos for the book provided some surprises.

''There are a lot of interesting photos that we hadn't seen earlier,'' he said. ''There is quite a bit from the Gougeon boat building, which I knew little about, and we have some photos to go along with it.''

Another interesting find was an album of photos that belonged to Capt. Benjamin Boutell, a prominent owner of a tugboat fleet along with other transport ships.

''When I saw the significance of this material, I wanted it in the book and it is one of the rarer collections of photographs of that era. It was unique (for Boutell) to have documented so much of his own operations. I was fascinated by trying to figure out who was taking the pictures.''

Some were taken by Boutell himself, and others were taken by people designated by the captain.

The book includes sections for the Davidson Shipbuilding Co., the Wheeler Shipbuilding Co. and Defoe Shipbuilding. Sections also feature ships used in lumbering, freighters, military fighting ships, pleasure craft, passenger ships, and sailboat and speedboat racing.

The photo collection depicts numerous launches of the large freighters built on the river, along with some unique pictures including one of a Defoe built fireboat Fred A. Busse, constructed for the city of Chicago fire department. The photo shows the ship being tested here with all five turret nozzles shooting streams into the river.

Other rare shots show a Boutell tug in operation pulling a huge boom of logs upriver, one of the first patrol craft built in 1939 for the Navy and a racing picture of Bay Cityan Hilda Mueller, the only woman up to that point to win a national championship in Class A divisions.

There are some unusual aerial photos of the Defoe operations along the river and several showing the industrial development of the riverfront. Another feature of shipping on the river is that of the hardy crews of men who worked on the ships. Several photographs depict them in their everyday routine.

Bloomfield said a new printing format produced by the publisher, Arcadia Publishing, allows for sharper images and the paper quality is improved. Arcadia publishes numerous historical books in a paperback series called Images of America.

The price of the book is $21.99. It is available at the museum store, 311 Washington Ave., and at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. The book also can be purchased locally at Wind in Willows, Maplewood Pharmacy, Country Drugs, Bay Antique Center, Anderson Pharmacy and Walgreen's Center Avenue store.

Buy It Now: Maritime Bay County $21.99




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