Another one of my childhood memories from Michigan was Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park. Anyone who grew up in Southern Michigan has been to this small island in the Detroit River probably with an elementary school field trip or my fondest memory when my grandparents took me. My visits to Bob-Lo Island would have been in the early seventies.
Located about 18 miles south of Detroit on Bois Blanc Island, the amusement park dates back to 1898. Since before 1910 access to the park was by two excursion steamships, the Columbia and the St. Claire. As a kid, this was almost better than the amusement park enjoying the long cruise from Detroit.
My memories of actually being on the island are vague. Most of the history is from the internet and the park map I found helped jog some memories. One of the remaining structures is the old dance hall funded by Henry Ford. In its heyday, it was the second largest dance hall in the world and could hold over 5000 people on the floor.
Bob-Lo Island officially closed 26 years ago on September 30, 1993. The declining economy in Detroit and the gang violence that followed was the main culprit for this parks demise resulting in one incident where Detroit’s SWAT team boarded the boat and rode back to the Detroit docks because of gang fights. Most of the rides were sold off and moved in 1994.
I love photographing abandoned places so, our first stop after flying into Detroit was driving over the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and then a 30-minute drive south. Our first roadblock seeking the hidden treasures of my childhood was arriving at the car ferry in Amherstburg, Canada. We were informed the southern part of the Island was closed to visitors and the only thing open was the ice cream shop. The southern part was of course where the amusement park was. The northern part has been turned into luxury homes and condominiums. The second problem was they only accepted cash, so we had to find an ATM to get Canadian currency.
We finally got the car on the ferry for the 5 minute trip across the Detroit River and headed toward the ice cream shop on the western side of the island and parked our car. We saw a sign that said “Private Property – No Vehicles past this Point”, however they did not say “No Trespassing”. So we started walking figuring the worst thing that could happen would someone would ask us to leave. So we headed south on an old road to see what we could discover.
The buildings we found still standing are in great shape from what we could see. There is still hope for the old dance hall as developers want to do something with it and as you can see from the photos, the other buildings look incredible. The buildings did have “No Trespassing” signs on them and that generally means to me, only if someone is looking. As we were in a different country, I felt it best to adhere to this directive.
My last memory of Bob-Lo Island when I went with my Grandparents was going to dinner that day on the way home. I do not remember the details, but I do remember projectile vomiting a beautiful arc down the main aisle of McDonald’s with booths on both sides. To this day I will never forget the looks of horror on the faces of the family 2 booths up on the left…
Bob-Lo Island, May 2019…..