1860 : Prince of Wales Visits Detroit

September 20, 2023 all-day

In 1860, Queen Victoria sent her 18-year-old playboy son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on a four-month tour of Canada and the United States. On Sept. 20, the future King Edward VII crossed from Windsor to Detroit, then a town of about 46,000, and spent the night before boarding a train to Chicago. Excited Detroiters at times overwhelmed the royal party, prompting the New York Journal of Commerce to call the Detroit throngs “impertinent rabble.” The following is a version of the Free Press coverage edited for style and clarity.  

The steamer Windsor, on which the royal party embarked, and where the mayor, alderman, and committee of 50 distinguished citizens of Detroit were waiting to receive them, was beautifully decorated.

The gangways were guarded by the members of the Detroit and Zephyr boat clubs, both in full uniform, who uncovered as the prince passed aboard and saluted him with three cheers. The Detroit Light Guard Band was on the upper deck, playing the national air, “God Save the Queen.”

Mayor Buhl was presented to the Prince by Lord Lyons, when the mayor said:

“In behalf of the Common Council and the citizens of Detroit, I bid you a hearty welcome to our shores, and wish you a pleasant journey through our country.”

The prince bowed and smiled, simply replying, “I thank you.”

As the boat left the wharf, the presentation was cut short to allow the illustrious travelers an opportunity of witnessing the demonstrations made upon the river. A line of steamers occupied the centre of the river, from a point opposite the Detroit and Milwaukee dock to the centre of the extensive wharf of the Michigan Central Railroad. These were all beautifully illuminated with lamps of various colors, and made a most striking appearance.

The foremost was the screw steamer, which bore a banner 30 feet in length, with the inscription, “The Sailors of our Inland Seas Give Hearty Welcome to Victoria’s Son.” As the Windsor passed her, a band on board struck up “God Save the Queen,” the crew raised three hearty cheers, and a shower of rockets and candles were let off − a signal that was answered by the whole fleet, filling the river with a blaze of light.

The whole village of Windsor seemed as if in a blaze of light. Every house was illuminated, bonfires were blazing in all directions, and rockets filled the air. Fireworks were discharged from all the vessels in the stream, while many of the large warehouses and other buildings on the wharf at Detroit were brilliantly illuminated.

On approaching the landing at the foot of Woodward Avenue, the long lines of torches borne by firemen disclosed to view the immense crowd of people that thronged the spacious avenue from the intersection of Jefferson to the water’s edge, from whom, as the boat neared the dock, a shout of welcome went up that must have caused a thrill to pass through the heart of the prince. The whole populace seemed to have gathered into this thoroughfare to greet the illustrious visitor. It was with difficulty that the lines of the boat could be got on to the snubbing posts, so densely packed was the crowd.

The military and firemen were mixed up in the general jam, and were utterly unable to open a passage for the carriages, which were also immovably packed in, to the great annoyance of the drivers, who shouted and swore, but all to no purpose.

After the boat was made fast, a half an hour was spent in almost useless exertions to get the crowd back so as to make a passage from the gangway to the carriages. It was finally given up, and the idea of a procession was abandoned. A squad of policemen were set at work at last, and by dint of hard knocks and violent choking, managed to open a passage to the nearest carriage, in which the Prince, who was unrecognized by the crowd, was placed with a suitable escort, and was immediately driven to his hotel, where he arrived in safety and without further annoyance.

The next day

After breakfast, the prince and his party took occasion to express to the mayor their gratitude for the brilliant reception of the previous evening, which had exceeded expectations. Instead of being annoyed at the impetuosity of the immense crowd that had prevented formation of the procession and compelled the prince to seek his hotel in a clandestine manner, they were rather pleased at it, considering it a distinguished compliment that so many citizens in a foreign country should thus assemble to welcome them.

After a stroll through the hotel, carriages were provided. An open carriage with four white horses was set apart for the prince, who was accompanied by Lord Lyon, Mayor Buhl and Captain Scot, of the U.S. Army. The other members of the party followed.

On leaving the hotel, some inconvenience was experienced in consequence of the large crowd that had collected with the expectation of seeing the royal visitor. It filled the entire space in Michigan Avenue opposite the hotel, and in front of the hotel, and in front to the centre of Woodward avenue. Owing to the admirable police arrangements that had been made, however, the party was seated in their carriages without molestation or annoyance, the only trouble arising in attempting to drive through the crowd.

As the carriages emerged from the crowd into Woodward Avenue and started away at a brisk pace down the street, an amusing spectacle was presented in the headlong chase of the multitude after them. Men, women and children, buggies, drays, market wagons, and everything else joined in the chase after royalty, many of the crowd catching hold of the carriages and continuing their run for a long distance up Jefferson Avenue.

The ride was down Woodward Avenue to Jefferson; up Jefferson to Dequindre Street; returning down Jefferson to St. Antoine Street; through St. Antoine to Congress Street; down Congress to Woodward; up Woodward to Fort Street; down Fort Street to Third Street; down Third Street to the Michigan Central Depot. In order to avoid crowds, the route was not announced, yet all along the windows of the various dwellings were filled, the sidewalks were densely occupied, and numerous carriages containing ladies passed the cortege, driving close to obtain a view of the illustrious visitors, and saluting them by waving their handkerchiefs, a compliment the prince invariably recognized by raising his hat, bowing and smiling.

During the ride, he conversed quite freely with the mayor, as did Lord Lyon, both of whom expressed their delight at our beautiful streets and the number of elegant buildings. They noticed, with much apparent pleasure, several of our elegant churches and private dwellings, and particularly remarked on the shade trees that have been so generally planted along the avenues.

On arriving at the depot, the party proceeded at once to the cars. An impromptu passageway was constructed from the street directly to the platform of the royal car, which was guarded by a strong detachment of police, so that not the slightest difficulty was experienced from the crowd.

The prince stopped upon the platform of his car, took off his hat, and shook hands cordially with the mayor and all members of the committee. The crowd cheered lustily. As the train moved slowly away, he remained uncovered, acknowledged with repeated bows the continuous cheering of the thousands who were collected to see him off.

Source : “Free Press Flashback: Detroit once went wild over a royal visitor”, September 18, 2022.