Mariners Church of Detroit
Location Name: Mariners’ Church of Detroit (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Church (Anglican - Independent)
Year Completed: 1849
Architect(s): Calvin N. Otis
The story of Mariners’ Church of Detroit begins with the will of Julia Ann Anderson. Upon her death in 1842, she willed her downtown property to become a church for the mariners who she saw arrive in the nearby port but who were marginalized by Detroit society. The out of town mariners were relegated to the backs of churches, mostly because their low pay did not allow then to pay for pew rentals or provide sufficient donations to the churches. Anderson, herself the wife of a mariner, Colonel John Anderson, intended that the church mission be to watch over the spiritual well-being of sailors and the greater community. She also intended that the pews would remain "forever free."
In 1849 the current church was consecrated at a location in what is now Hart Plaza, about 900 feet to the west of the current site (near where the present UAW Monument is located). Architect Calvin N. Otis designed the Gothic Revival limestone structure. Since the church’s mission was to sailors who had little to give, the lower floor of the building was built to house a series of rental units to help finance church operations. The upper level was made into the sanctuary. Simply designed and decorated, the Mariners’ Church was a church for the common man. Mariners’ also was involved in the Underground Railroad, helping escaping slaves flee to Canada. A tunnel was built from the basement of the church to lead those fleeing closer to the Detroit River.
When the decision was made to provide the Detroit riverfront with a new civic center, Hart Plaza, Mariners’ Church stood directly in the way. Despite some talk of leveling the historic structure, the building was able to be saved. To make way for the new construction, the 3,000 ton church was moved approximately 900 feet eastward to its current location in 1955. At the new location, a new bell tower was built and the old simple windows were replaced with beautiful stained glass by Lamb Studios. The church once again made history when it was referenced in the 1976 Gordon Lightfoot song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Upon news of the lives lost on the 1975 sinking of the famous ship on Lake Superior, former rector Bishop Richard Ingalls, Sr. rung the church bell 29 times in memory of the 29 men who were lost at sea.
Today Mariners’ Church remains independent, though a legal battle was waged by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan to bring Mariners’ under their control. A visit to the church will result in a maritime experience. The decor of the church and offices all follow a nautical theme. Many artifacts of Great Lakes maritime history can also be found at the church. The interior design of the sanctuary, including the great rose window at the church’s facade is perfect for a church that commemorates the life on the lakes. Always dear to Michigan’s heart, the maritime industry built the state we see today. Few places treasure this history as well as Mariners’ Church of Detroit.
Mariners’ Church of Detroit was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.Sources