Article: Canada Southern Bridge Company History 1873-1882

by G. F. Kuschal to the Wolverine Railroad Historical Society November 30, 1950 [HMC]

The Canada Southern Bridge Company was formed September 23, 1873, by the consolidation of the Detroit River Railroad and Bridge Company (U.S.) and the Detroit River Railway Bridge Company (Canada). The CSBC was popularly known as the Grosse Ile Railroad.

The original companies held franchises from the State of Michigan and the Dominion of Canada to construct a railway bridge across the westerly channel of the Detroit River to Grosse Ile, thence a railroad to the main or international channel of the Detroit River and thence a railway bridge or tunnel across the main channel of the Detroit River to some point at or near Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada.

In 1874 the Canada Southern Bridge Company issued $1,000,000 in bonds and $450,000 in stock. This it paid to the Canada Sothern Railroad Company for original construction. Between 1876 and 1879 the bridge company spent another $275,772.50 for improvements.

The original line, as constructed in 1873-1874, was 3.66 miles in length. It extended from Slocum Junction near Trenton, Michigan on the M.C.R.R. Toledo Division, to and across a four span bridge on the westerly channel of the Detroit River. It then extended across Grosse Ile to a second bridge 900 feet long, carrying the railroad to Stony Island which it then crossed and terminated at a ferry slip. The proposed bridge or tunnel across the international channel of the Detroit River, as mentioned in the original franchises, was never constructed. From its Stony Island terminus, the railroad operated a car ferry service to Gordon, Ontario, where it connected with the Canada Southern Railway, 1.2 miles north of Amherstburg, Ontario.

MC Grosse Isle MIPerhaps it will come as a surprise to some of you, as it did to your speaker, that Grosse Ile in 1881 was a "beehive" of railroad activity. It had a yard about 6,000 feet long with nine tracks at its widest part, a six stall engine house, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, a coal dock, a freight transfer house, a stock yard, a United States Customs building and a beautiful stone and brick passenger station. This passenger station is now used as a municipal building. (1950).

The line was operated under lease by the Michigan Central railroad as the Grosse Ile Branch. Finally the Grosse Ile Branch began to lose out in favor of a crossing at Detroit, where much of the freight and passenger traffic originated or terminated. Car ferry service between Stony Island and Canada was discontinued in 1883 when the Michigan Central railroad leased the Canada Southern railway and a branch (now part of the main line) was built to Windsor. This branch line from Windsor to Essex, Ontario, was constructed in 1882 and placed in operation December 31, 1883.

Ferry service of the Canada Southern Bridge Company from Stony Island ceased on December 31, 1883. This was the year car ferry service began by the Michigan Central railroad between Detroit and Windsor. The Stony Island route was used occasionally after 1883 at times when ice blockades prevented use of the Detroit-Windsor route, but with the purchase of powerful ferry boats, the Stony Island crossing was entirely abandoned in 1888.

Stony Island was allowed to revert to an unused wild island infested by numerous rattle snakes. The rails were left to rust and some 25 years after abandonment, the island was leased from the railroad as a home for some 600 persons working on the construction of the Livingston Channel. The piers formerly used by the car ferries were then all rotted away.

Incidentally, shortly after its abandonment by the railroad, Stony Island gradually acquired many stories about mysterious goings on there. It was only occasionally visited by adventuresome fisherman.

The bridge spanning the river between Stoney Island and Grosse Ile was removed in two parts. In 1905 the westerly two spans were removed on order of the Department of War. This, of course, broke the physical land connection between the two islands. The remaining four spans were removed in 1913. The material of this bridge then was in such a deteriorated condition that no attempt was made to salvage it. It was dumped along side the waste bank of stone material removed from the Livingston Channel.

With the removal of the Stony Island bridge, there remained only Grosse Ile to be served by the Canada Southern Bridge Company, under Michigan Central lease and operation, but, Grosse Ile developed into a residential and club section. Without industries or a large population to be served, the railroad to Grosse Ile became a losing proposition. To make matters worse, what business had existed began to dwindle by the inroads of busses and the greater use of private automobiles. This as much so that daily passenger service to Grosse Ile was terminated on January 9, 1924.

Although passenger service to Grosse Ile became a thing of the past in 1924, the railroad continued to operate freight service for about five years more, but the annual losses from the operation of this line began to mount. Annual deficits during the five year period (1924 through 1928) ranged from $3,782 to $7,963 per year. During 1928 only 79 trips were made to the island. They were made with a switch engine furnishing the motive power. To further illustrate the futility of continued operations, permit me to add, that even with the few trips made, only an average of three cars were handled per trip.

To make the situation definitely more hopeless, the bridge from the main land to Grosse Ile being of light construction could safely support only the lightest freight cars. To continue operation, it would have had to be rebuilt. This would have entailed an expenditure of $875,000.

About this time, Wayne County became interested in purchasing the right of way of this almost streak of rust for conversion to a public highway. Much of the property owned by the railroad on Stony Island and Grosse Ile had already been sold by the year 1921. So it is apparent that in 1928 there was not much left of the Grosse Ile railroad branch.

On April 16, 1929, on petition of the railroad, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) issued orders to permit abandonment of the line. The Michigan Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) issued similar orders on May 24, 1929. 

The final curtain on all operations was drawn closed with the running of the last freight train on June 16, 1929. The line on abandonment day extended from Slocum Junction, Michigan to Grosse Ile, 2.193 miles. As mentioned earlier, it was originally 3.66 miles in length.

Wayne County purchased the property extending from the east side of Grosse Ile (the side towards Canada) to the west shore of the west channel of the Detroit River for $75,000 and a quit claim and bill of sale made May 21,1930. Certain parcels of land on the mainland reverted back to the Slocum heirs in accordance with the early grants made to the railroad. This land was conveyed to the Detroit Edison Company by March 9, 1931. The Michigan Central railroad retained that portion of track and right-of-way which served the Edison company. This became an industrial side track on the Toledo Division. It is, of course, in great use today (1950).

Wayne  County took up most of the tracks by the year 1931 as part of their $75,000 purchase. All of the remaining tracks were taken up by February 26, 1932 and so the Canada Southern bridge Company was declared defunct and became only a memory.




The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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