Mariners' Church has illustrated Detroit's connections to the Great Lakes since its consecration in 1849. Funds for its construction came from the wills of two sisters, Charlotte Ann Taylor and Julia Ann Anderson, who wanted to establish a church near the Detroit River similar to the seamen's bethels then popular on the East Coast. Yet because its charter prohibited the common practice of charging for pews, the church's founders worried that sufficient operating funds would be difficult to find, especially since the men it was intended to serve traveled frequently. As a result, this Gothic Revival building included two stories: the upper was reserved for religious activities, but the lower housed a series of rental units to help finance church operations. After the Civil War, for example, the Detroit Post Office spent ten years in the first floor space. Mariners' Church has gone through significant changes in the 20th century. As much of Detroit's population moved to the suburbs, its location in the heart of downtown left the building increasingly isolated. Declining attendence led it to broaden its mission to become a "home and port for storm tossed humanity." After World War II, the construction of Detroit Civic Center required moving the 3,000 ton church to a new site about 900 feet east, an event spectacular enough to make it into the pages of Life magazine. Throughout these shifts, however, the church has continued to attend to the needs of sailors. The most famous example occurred in 1975, when Reverend Richard Ingalls reacted to the sinking of a Great Lakes freighter by praying alone and ringing the church's bell 29 times--one for each man lost. Newspapers across the world reported this story, including one read by singer Gordon Lightfoot; he responded by writing the song "The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald." Each year since, Mariners' Church has held a memorial service commemorating the men who were on board.
The Mariners' Church is located just east of the Detroit Civic Center at 170 E. Jefferson Avenue two blocks north of the Detroit River. The building is open to the public; to schedule a group tour, call the church office at (313)-259-2206.
Mariners' Church Today
Photograph by John Renaud
Mariners' Church in 1936
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