Victorian Era summer excursions

Throughout the Victorian Era, the Pere Marquette steamers often transported people for day long or week long excursions.

Throughout the Victorian Era, the Pere Marquette steamers often transported people for day long or week long excursions.

In the Victorian era excursions, either by boat or rail were popular for summer outings.

 A transportation firm would offer a special rate for a trip several hours to a nearby community. On many occasions these trips were sponsored by local churches or other groups as special fundraising events.

In the heat of the summer, excursions on Lake Michigan provided the best opportunity for cooling off on a hot Sunday afternoon. Sometimes the excursions were in connection with a special event such as a Fourth of July picnic, or simply to socialize, or even to enjoy a baseball game at a nearby park. For 50 cents one could leave Manistee in the morning, enjoy a picnic for special hours at Pierport and return in the evening. On other occasions, the boat might journey to the Manitou Islands, with the majority of the day spent on the vessel. A trip like this would cost a dollar, but it must be remembered that laborers only earned a dollar a day at the time.

In 1871, when the schooner D.L. FILER was launched into Manistee Lake, all of the spectators were invited aboard and the schooner was towed by tug on an excursion up Lake Michigan to the new harbor of Portage Lake. In that case the excursionists got more than they bargained for as there was a slight breeze blowing which caused the unballasted schooner to bob like a cork. This resulted in many ill passengers while the vessel was in the open lake.

A typical excursion was one to the Manitou Islands in 1879 on the steamer JOHN A. DIX. An editor from the Manistee Advocate was along for the trip and offered readers the following account of the excursion:

“The excursion to the Manitous on last Saturday was, in every sense except a financial one, a grand success. When the DIX left her dock there were about 150 aboard from Manistee, which number was subsequently increased by 23 ladies and gentlemen from Frankfort. The lake was placid and calm, the atmosphere balmy and cool, and a delightful run was made to the Manitous in 4 hours and 25 minutes. Arrived at the South Manitous, the excursionists dispersed and amused themselves according to their own intent. Many spread their cloths in the woods and refreshed their innerselves; some procured wagons and teams and drove around the island; some visited the farmers and purchased cattle of them, while others rambled and scrambled on the beautiful beach.

“The South Manitou is a beautiful island, containing 6,500 acres of land, with a population of 112 persons. The chief employment is farming and stock raising. The island has a good schoolhouse, and Rev. John M. Smith, Methodist, looks after their spiritual wants in an able and satisfactory manner. He has been there two years, and has a membership of over sixty. The North Manitou, a few miles distant, contains 13,000 acres of land, and has a population of 40 people. Quite a number of Detroit and Buffalo boats stop at the islands for wood.

“Dancing was indulged in both going and coming, and in the evening the excursionists were indebted to the Misses Winnie Wing and Hattie Knapp, Mrs. Butler and others for some excellent vocal and instrumental music. The DIX landed her precious freight at 2 a.m. Sunday.”

Excursions remained popular over the years. Later it became common for school classes to enjoy an end of year excursion and picnic. The Chicago, Duluth, and Georgian Bay line continued these school excursions through the 1960s. Today it is harder to find an excursion in the summer but the author was able to enjoy a refreshing one circling a Lake Michigan island in the fog last week.