Historic Detroit

Mariners Church

Mariners is Detroit’s “spiritual lighthouse.”

The church was founded in 1842, and this building was dedicated Dec. 23, 1849, making it the second-oldest church in the city. The nondenominational church was designed by Calvin N. Otis and originally stood on Woodward Avenue, south of Jefferson Avenue, where Woodbridge Street once existed.

Because it was built for sailors, who were not only transient but also not exactly wealthy, the church kept the doors open by renting out its bottom floor to tenants, such as Alfred Rush & Sons grocer seen here. It was a place where sailors could not only worship, but sleep, wash up and grab a bite, as well.

In the early 1950s, the City of Detroit was clearing the area around Mariners to create a new civic center, the site of Hart Plaza today — and Mariners was in the way. Yet it would not follow its neighbors into the architectural graveyard in the sky. Starting in December 1954, the 6-million-pound structure was moved to its current location. The 800-some-foot journey east took four months. There was enough money left over from the relocation fund-raising effort to add stained glass windows where the church previously had none, as well as tack on a bell tower, which was dedicated Dec. 15, 1957.

Mariners, incidentally, is the “maritime sailors’ cathedral” Gordon Lightfoot was talking about in his song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”