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Dossin Great Lakes Museum

November 24, 2021

  • 100 The Strand
  • Detroit, MI 48207
  • (313) 821-2661
  • Website

We have lived in Michigan for 13 years now and playing tourist in Detroit is something we haven’t done very often.

We took a weekend just to hang out and see some things in Detroit we haven’t seen early in November when the weather was still nice. L was selected to play in a Flag Football game at Ford Field so why not make it a family weekend?

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do in Detroit but have never done is check out Belle Isle. I see it on TV all the time….well, at least once a year when I watch the Indycar Belle Isle GP…but we have never taken the time to hang out at the park.

The first thing we did when getting to the Island Sunday morning was walk through the Belle Isle Aquarium. This was a cool stop but took less than an hour. We still had four or five hours until L’s game so we needed to keep exploring.

We headed next door to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory next door (I didn’t take pictures so I didn’t blog about it but I really should have) to tick off another half hour or so.

We walked around the grounds of the Conservatory for a few minutes because B was jumping from stone paver to stone paver. He was entertaining himself so we let him go.

I noticed another building off in the distance past the little lake on the south side of the Conservatory. I didn’t know what it was but I figured we should go check that out too.

Turns out, that building was the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is on the south side of Belle Isle on The Strand right along the Detroit River. The building, opened in 1961 and is home to the largest collection of model ships in the world among other artifacts telling Detroit’s maritime history.

One of the first things you see is, I think, one of the coolest pieces they have at the museum. Before you even get to the building from the parking lot, you see a large anchor. This is the anchor from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald which went down in a storm in 1975. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most famous pieces of Great Lakes maritime history so it’s pretty cool that this museum has such a large piece of that ship.

There is no admission charge to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum but there is a suggested donation of $5 per person. I stuck a few fives into the plexiglass box as we walked in. There is an attendant at the front desk but she just wants Zip Code information for record keeping.

The kids were pretty fascinated right away as you see a lot of large artifacts from ships over the years. Leading in to the first room is a giant bell, which thankfully has a do not touch sign on it because both of my kids…and me, really wanted to ring that bell.

B is still at the age he wants everything to be hands on. L is starting to become more of a history buff and is taking the time to read when we walk through museums like this.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum has a little bit of both. There is definitely a lot to read about the history of shipping and travel through the region.

But there’s also a little bit of hands on as well. Anything that remotely looks like a video game will grab B’s attention right away.

The museum has a lot of model ships. Like, a lot. It has one of the largest known collection of model ships in the world. They’re all over the museum

The centerpiece of the museum is the pilot house from the SS Willam Clay Ford. This ship was a bulk freighter that worked in the Great Lakes. It was also one of the ships that was involved in the initial search with the SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down in 1975. The ship was retired in 1986. The pilot house was removed and installed at this museum while the rest of the ship was scrapped.

The first thing at the top of the steps are different lights from various lighthouses. I don’t know why but the Great Lakes lighthouses are always something that has fascinated me. We go looking for the light whenever we’re at a new city along the shoreline.

The pilot house is super cool. There was a group of older people watching a freighter come down the river while we were there and someone who I assume was a docent giving a little history lesson. Unfortunately, B just wanted to push buttons and was being kind of a distraction so he and I got out of there pretty quickly. It was a very cool history lesson if I could have gotten him to pay attention and not distract the people were there listening to this guy.

There were a few more things to see but that pretty much wrapped up our tour of this really cool little museum.

L is at an age where she enjoys museums. B is not. He still needs the hands on experience. I get it. He’s just learning to read so it’s not as exciting for him yet. If he’s anything like me, he’ll get there….when he’s like 25 or so.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is not a place I had ever heard of before this trip to Belle Isle. It’s not huge…it will only take you an hour or so to walk through…but there’s a lot of interesting history there.

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