Writer | Julie Ford

Step into History on Michigan’s Floating Museums

Along Michigan’s 3,224 miles of shoreline are several floating museums with hatchways and portholes beckoning visitors to come aboard. Freighters, car ferries, a lightship, cutters, a buoy tender, a 1904 steamship and three world-renowned Navy vessels dot Michigan from coast to coast. In addition to fairs, festivals and fireworks this Fourth of July, spend some time aboard the USS Edson, USS LST 393 or the USS Silversides and learn about those who served and fought for America’s freedom.

USS LST 393 – Muskegon 

The United States Ship (USS) Landing Ship Tank (LST) number 393 was one of more than 1,000 built in the U.S. at the request of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the early 1940s. World War II was raging in North Africa, Britain had lost a significant number of ships and Churchill asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for assistance, specifically for ships with the ability to unload troops and armored vehicles onto rough beaches. Eighteen U.S. shipyards produced over 1,000 LSTs in less than three years. More than half of these vessels were produced on inland rivers. 

From 1943 to 1945, the USS LST 393 participated in operations in Sicily, Salerno and the Allied invasion of Normandy. It not only carried troops and armored vehicles including Sherman tanks but also was employed as an aircraft carrier for the Piper L-4 “Grasshopper” that was capable of landing and taking off over a very short distance. Military records indicate it also carried 817 casualties and 5,373 prisoners of war. After the USS LST 393 was removed completely from naval service, it was sold to a Detroit company in 1948 and renamed MV Highway 16 for a highway Michiganders know today as Interstate 96. The formerly decorated naval ship had its characteristic bow doors welded shut and became a carrier of new vehicles from where Highway 16 ended in Muskegon, across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. Records indicate the ferry service ended in the mid-1970s and the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum acquired the LST 393 in 2002.

To learn more about the USS LST 393 floating museum including visiting hours, and even renting the ship, go to LST393.org.

USS Silversides – Muskegon

Less than 10 miles from the USS LST 393 is the WWII submarine floating museum USS Silversides. A National Historic Landmark, the USS Silversides engaged in numerous WWII patrols that resulted in the sinking of 23 enemy ships and earning 12 battle stars for meritorious participation in battle. The USS Silversides participated in the Pacific Theater of WWII — an area that included eastern Asia, the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and area islands).

Edge-of-your-seat accounts of what the USS Silversides and its crew achieved and endured in each of the 14 war patrols spanning April 1942 to July 1945 are captured on board in well-documented history. Only two other submarines sunk more enemy ships than the USS Silversides and since those two were scrapped in 1960, the USS Silversides is the top-ranked surviving WWII submarine that holds the record for sinking the most ships. The USS Silversides has retained its WWII integrity which allows visitors to fully immerse themselves into what life was like on a submarine, minus dodging torpedoes.

The USS Silversides was decommissioned in 1946, was placed on reserve in 1947 and continued service as naval reservist training ship until 1969. In 1987, it was moved to Muskegon to be preserved at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum in Muskegon.

To learn more about the USS Silversides and how you can spend the night in the berths, go to silversidesmuseum.org.

USS Edson – Bay City

Built in the late 1950s, the USS Edson is a destroyer category of warship and at the time was part of a very fast steam-powered fleet of 18 U.S. Navy destroyers known as the Forrest-Sherman class. They were all-gun destroyers and performed search-and-rescue efforts, providing escorts for large warships and keeping an eye on the sky and sea. The USS Edson performed special operations in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964 and carried out naval gunfire support missions during the Vietnam War.

The USS Edson was decommissioned in 1988 and towed to Philadelphia where it was placed in storage. From 1989 to 2004, it was on display as a museum ship in New York City and was then towed to two different east coast naval yards before being successfully relocated to Bay City’s Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum. On May 7, 2013, the USS Edson was permanently moored in its present location in Bay City.

To learn more about life on a destroyer including booking overnight stays to catch a ghost or two, go to ussedson.org.

Michigan’s Other Floating Museums 

USCG Mackinaw WAGB 83 Coast Guard Cutter – Mackinaw City
Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum

Valley Camp Freighter – Sault Ste. Marie
Museum Ship Valley Camp

S.S. City of Milwaukee Railroad Car Ferry – Manistee
Society for the Preservation of the S.S. City of Milwaukee and USCGC Acacia

USCGC Acacia WLB 406 Coast Guard Buoy Tender – Manistee
Society for the Preservation of the S.S. City of Milwaukee and USCGC Acacia

Huron Lightship – Port Huron
Port Huron Museums

S.S. Milwaukee Clipper Passenger Steamer – Muskegon
Milwaukee Clipper Preservation, Inc.

USCGC McLane WSC 146 Coast Guard Cutter – Muskegon
Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum