This summer, the Glass City Metropark was opened to the public and it is an outstanding hit. This metropark sits right next to the National Museum of the Great Lakes, and we spent Labor Day exploring it.

Now, my kids and my parents wandered through the museum about a year ago, and that is worth a visit itself. However, this time¬† we had hours at our disposal, so we got tickets for both the museum AND the freighter. If you’re part of a family of 4 or larger, I highly recommend buying a family membership instead of paying individual entrances. At $60 for the membership, it was cheaper for our family of 5 than paying the individual entrances, and we are able to come and visit again whenever we want for the next year!


The Col. James M Schoonmaker freighter was decommissioned about 10 years ago and is permanently docked at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, giving visitors a close-up look at what it takes to haul coal and other freight across the Great Lakes. This ship was originally built in 1911, and some parts of the ship look exactly the same as the day it was built. However, some areas of the ship have seen extensive renovations, so it could accommodate a crew throughout the twentieth century.

Once on board the freighter, we were able to take a staircase into a cargo hold, visit the kitchens, view sleeping quarters for crew and officers, check out the engine rooms, and pilothouse. As the cooks fed a crew of about 30, I was fascinated by the kitchens and the guest quarters. The shipping line’s owner often liked to ride on his freighters, and he often invited friends, like Andrew Carnegie, to see how his business operated. Heaven forbid Andrew Carnegie take a shower in anything less than a marble shower! The owner’s rooms, guest rooms, and captain’s rooms were extremely comfortable-looking, making me wonder when I could book a cruise on a Great Lakes freighter! (Just kidding–I get seasick. That, and I’d be surprised if freighter owners bother showing off like that anymore.) My engineer husband was, of course, more interested in the engine rooms. They awed me, but much of that was lost on me, and I much preferred the views from the decks.


Inside the museum, there are sections that explain subtle differences between the five Great Lakes, and the history of navigation around the Great Lakes, which culminates with a large tribute to the many shipwrecks that happen in the Great Lakes. Don’t let the term “lake” fool you–the weather on the Great Lakes can turn nasty and become every bit as dangerous for freighters and other boats as the ocean!

This is a great stop for transportation-loving kids (and their parents), with knowledgeable staff on board the freighter and well-explained exhibits in the museum. It’s not overwhelmingly large, but makes for an enjoyable two or three hours.