HOME - Front Page
Heritage \ Writings \

Davidson Shipbuilding Company
Established in 1874 by James Davidson.
  • Added June, 2014.

  • Alexander Nimick (1890-1907)

    1883- History of Bay County, Michigan, 1883

    Captain James Davidson, ship builder, was born in Buffalo, N. Y., and has followed sailing from his youth up, two years of which he spent on salt water, making several voyages between New York and Liverpool, and in 1861, to Calcutta. In his twenty-second year he commanded the schooner Sea Gull, and afterward purchased an interest in the schooner Philena Mills, and took command of her. For the past thirteen years he has been engaged in ship building in the Saginaw Valley, during which time he built and sailed the schooner Kate Winslow (at the time the largest sailing vessel on the lakes.), schooner E. M. Davidson, and steamers Jas. Davidson, Oceaniea and Siberia and also several tugs. He is now engaged on the largest steamship on the lakes, the dimensions of which are, length, 285 feet, with a carrying capacity of 2,500 tons, exclusive of fuel, machinery and outfit. She is fitted with fore and aft compound engines, high pressure cylinder, 30 inches bore, 42 inches stroke, and two steel boilers 8 ˝ feet shell, 16 feet long, and will be fitted with all modern improvements. The captain resides with his family in Buffalo, N. Y., but owning to his large ship building interests in West Bay City, and the time he necessarily spends there, he is looked upon as a resident of the place.

    Amazons (1898)

    1898 – Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor & Industrial Statistics, State of Michigan, 1898.

    Page 154.

    The shipyard of James Davidson in West Bay City, the largest wooden shipyard upon the lakes, was established in 1874. Since that time from this yard 90 vessels, ranging from the small tug boat to those among the largest wooden steamers, which float upon our waters, and with an estimated valuation of over $7,000,000, have been built and successfully launched. The capacity of this yard is nearly 40,000 tons, as there can be at one time under construction no than than seven of the larges and seven of the smaller vessels, all having a total estimated valuation of over $1,000,000. When running full capacity.

    Twelve hundred persons are employed, mostly mechanics, average from $1.75 to $2.25 per day each, while common labor receives from $1.26 to $1.35 per day, with a total monthly pay roll of over $30,000.

    The city of West Bay City is indeed fortunate in having such a progressive business man as Mr. Davidson located in their midst, for with him hard times and good times seem to be equally alike and unknown; having unlimited capacity, he keeps right on producing and turning out yearly, vessels with a total valuation of nearly one and a half million dollars. If there is a demand for these vessels and buyers appear they are accommodated, if not, into the water they go just the same, adding a few more tons to the carrying capacity of his greet fleet of vessels, there to be managed and controlled by him until such time as they can be advantageously disposed of. Since June, 1896, this yard has built ten vessels having a total valuation of $450,000, while at present he has under the process of construction four other large vessels, two steamers and two consorts, with a length each of 312 to 315 feet over all and a total carrying capacity of over 20,000 tons and a valuation of over $5,000,000. These vessel are to be finished at the opening of the navigation in 1898. Besides being the owner of the largest shipyard and a fleet of 24 vessels upon the lakes, Mr. Davidson is owner and manager of the large dry dock situated at Bay City, having a length of 316 feet over all, 306 feet over block, gate 42 feet, and over sill 13 ˝ feet. As a business man Mr. Davidson is a prominent member of the Lake Carriers' Association. His advice is eagerly sought after upon all matters relating to commerce and navigation, and this Bureau acknowledges indebtedness to Mr. Davidson for valuable information and assistance.

    Davidson Dry Dock

    Our Inland Seas, by James Cooke Mills, 1910

    Page 218.

    For many years the shipyard of James Davidson at Bay City, was one of the largest and best for such construction on fresh water. After the demand for new tonnage of wood had ceased along the nineties, the yard still continued building the largest wooden vessels every built anywhere, and to-day the Davidson fleet of fourteen vessels is the best of it class afloat upon any waters of America.

    All the vessels of this fleet were built within the ten years next after 1893, and comprise seven steamers, seven barges, schooner rigged , and three tugs. Five of the steamers and four of the barges are in the three-hundred-feet class or larger, ranging in size from three hundred and twelve feet length and forty-four feet beam to three hundred and seventy-eight feet length by forty-six feet beam, and registering from two thousand, two hundred to two thousand , eight hundred tons, with a large cargo capacity of about five thousand tons each. The entire fleet measures near thirty thousand tons, which gives a capacity exceeding fifty thousand tons in a single trip. The barge Montezuma, three hundred and seventy-eight fee in length and forty-six fee beam, is probably the largest wooden vessel ever built and launched in fresh water.

    Besides this fleet there are upward of one hundred steamers and about ten barges of wood in the classes measuring two hundred and fifty feet in length, and over, many of which are nearly three hundred feet, and of forty-two to forty-four feet beam, all owned and operated by small independent lines, and may be termed “”tramp ships.” They are engaged principally in the grain and coal trade between the head of the lakes and Buffalo or other Lake Erie ports. While the old steam barges and the small schooners, some of which date back to sixties and seventies, are fast disappearing from the lakes marine, the stanch wooden ship will likely continue a factor in the carrying trade for a number of years to come.


    Bay County Past and Present, George Ernest Butterfield, 1918

    Page 114.

    In 1873, James Davidson began building ships where his dry dock is now located, and the year 1879 saw the beginning of the Wheeler shipyard. The Davidson and Wheeler yards were soon building some of the largest and best boats on the lakes. One yard along employed, at times, as many as 1,400 men.

    Additional Notes:

      1907 - Lake Pilots Handbook.
      Davidson Shipbuilding Co., 2 docks, lengths 435 and 315 feet.

    Related Notes & Pages
    Capt. Davison History.
    Capt. {James Davidson}

    Map - Davidson Shipyard
    People Referenced
    Davidson, James Capt.
    Wheeler, Frank
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City
    Buffalo, NY
    Davidson Ship Building
    Dry Dock
    Lake Erie
    Montezuma (barge)
    New York
    Saginaw Valley
    West Bay City, MI
    Wheeler Shipyard
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.