Detroit was founded in 1701 by French explorer and adventurer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. He planted the flag of France at the foot of what is now Griswold Street and secured the geography between the upper and lower Great Lakes. By 1751, the area was known as Petit Cote (Little Coast). Detroit began to expand during the 19th century with a U.S Settlement around the Great Lakes. By 1920, based on the booming auto industry and immigration, it became a world-class industrial powerhouse and the fourth-largest city in the United States. With all this growth, the Port of Detroit became the largest seaport in Michigan.
In 1925, the Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 234, the Port Districts Act, calling for the creation of Port Districts to bring about coordination of maritime trade. In 1933, the Detroit/Wayne County Port District was established with jurisdiction over the water and shoreline of Wayne County.
The Detroit Wayne County Port District was established in 1933, though, the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority was not organized until 1978. The first board meeting of the authority was held on October 10, 1980, and Henry Ford II was chosen as its first chairman.
The Detroit Wayne County Port Authority has a rich history on the waterfront as it continued to develop.
In 1999, Port Authority wrote a grant request to U.S. Senator Carl Levin to build a new port authority building on the river front. Senator Levin loved the waterfront and was very helpful in the development of many projects along it. The grant request of $7.1 million was awarded from federal stimulus funding to build an offshore wharf to serve cruise ships and other vessels in the Detroit River. The wharf became a critical component of a $15 million passenger ship terminal that was to become the Port Authorities new home along with hosting most Great Lakes vessels including cruise ships, tall ships, and government related vessels.
The new public terminal and dock were officially opened in 2011 with much public fanfare as it was located on the same parcel of land downtown on the Detroit River used by cruise ships dating back to 1909.
From 1920 through 1967, Detroit had a vibrant cruise ship industry with many different cruise ship lines docking on the very site that the new Detroit Wayne Count Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal building sits today.
This new facility has hosted over 100 modern day cruise ships and other excursion vessles serving the Great Lakes with a robust demand for cruising the lakes. The passengers visiting Detroit tour the Henry Ford Museum and of course the Motown Museum bringing over $20 million in local economic impact.
The Detroit Wayne County Port Authority also owns Detroit’s largest freight terminal and publicly promotes all the region’s private port terminals. Port Authority has now expanded its mission to include a port wide decarbonization program to become carbon neutral by 2040. Through this ambitious initiative the port has administered both federal and state grants to assist in this mission.
From its early beginnings to the present day, we are sure Henry Ford ll would be proud of the port authority he helped to create.
Port Detroit has a long and storied history and is the current home to some centuries old artifacts that tell the story of this great city.
On loan courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society, this anchor from the S.S. Greater Detroit Cruise Ship on display in front of the port has a long and intriguing history.