By 1751, the Port of Detroit had a French population of six hundred, and it was an important fur-trading center. When dredging created navigational channels between the Great Lakes and the Hudson River and the Erie Canal opened in the early 1800s, the Port of Detroit became an important passageway to the promising Northwest Territory.
Its central location made the Port of Detroit a perfect point for shipment of timber, wool, and field products from the north and west as well as manufactured goods from the east. With the discovery of ores and limestone in northern Michigan and supplies of coal in southern Michigan, the Port of Detroit became the logical point for trade and transportation. With increasing traffic came bankers, importers, storage companies, and shipbuilders, and laborers followed these employers.
The Detroit River and the Port of Detroit were critical to the city becoming a major manufacturing center in mid-20th Century America. In 1925, Michigan’s legislature authorizing the Port Districts to coordinate maritime activities. Then in 1933, the Detroit Wayne County Port District was established to govern the shoreline in Wayne County. The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority was created in 1978 to concentrate on port activities as more development began.
The St. Lawrence Seaway System is a link between the world and United States heartland industry and agriculture. Over 200 million tons of cargo travels this 2000-mile long system every year, and the Port of Detroit is part of the system. Located in southwest Detroit at the foot of Clark Street, the Port of Detroit is within easy access to Interstate highways 75, 94, and 96 as well as the Ambassador Bridge. Railroads bring intermodal transportation to the Port.
Covering 35 acres, the Port of Detroit has over 2000 feet of docks and 27 feet of seaway depth. The 128 thousand square foot facility offers covered storage for cargo, and work is underway to restore a four-acre ten-story warehouse.
The Nicholson Terminal & Dock Company operates Michigan’s largest terminal facility with 5500 feet of dock, 80 acres of yard, and almost 200 thousand square feet of covered storage. Offering two terminals with services that include loading and unloading of truck, rail, and barge cargo; container handling; cargo sorting and assembling; and long-term storage. They also offer year-round vessel repair services.
The primary commodities handled by the Port of Detroit include crude materials, manufactured goods, coal, and petroleum and petroleum products. In 2003, the Port of Detroit handled almost six million tons of ore, two million tons of stone/aggregate, 1.5 million tons of coal, and 1.3 million tons of cement.
In 2004, the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority broke ground on a new $11 million US Public Dock and Terminal to enhance the city’s Riverfront as a tourist destination.