Detroit has a long history of misfits, creatives, gadflies, rabble rousers, and people who are wonderfully outside of the social “norm.”
One of the many places in the city that was defined by the people in it was the “Goat Yard,” a small boat yard on the east side of the city over by the foot of St. Jean. It was maybe the last hippie boat yard, the Detroit Boat Works.
For years it was home to a litany of never-ending nautical restoration projects, low key social gatherings and some of the most interesting people in the city of Detroit. There’s even a local documentary about it.
Now, why was it called the “Goat Yard” as opposed to a “Boat Yard?” Well, I’m going to let a great clip from an interview with Stephen Hume (more on this colorful character later, may he rest in peace) on how Nemo the Goat showed up.
“I was talking to someone in the Detroit Police … and they had some old mounted horses they were going to retire. We had a lot of space here, and so I thought I’d get a horse for Sue for her birthday. So I brought it up to Charles, and Charles was an old Hungarian calvary guy, and he said Stephen, this is no yard for a horse … if you get a horse, I will report you myself to the Humane Society. Why don’t you get her a goat?”
Let’s turn the page to Stephen Hume himself.
Columnists used to cover him with some regularity, including relaying a story of how he would regularly needle former Mayor Coleman A. Young, including many unsuccessful attempts at various political offices.
For a particular project in 1992, Hume took a small boat and flew from it a box kite that had attached a giant banner that read, “RETIRE YOUNG.”
He then piloted that boat, kite with banner in tow, past city hall in view of the ‘ol Hizzoner. He was not amused.
The police harbormaster got ahold of Hume and ticketed him for having inadequate identification on the side of his aquatic vehicle of protest. There seem to be a thousand stories floating around about Hume’s run-ins with Detroit police.
I heard Mr. Hume died a few years ago. 2013, if I remember.
This one is a little personal, as I had the good fortune as my grandmother was friends with the group to paw around the place a few times as a young kid.
It was one of my first tastes of the best of what weird Detroit really could be. Experiences like the Goat Yard are what made me fall in love with this city at an early age.
The physical place that was the Goat Yard is 1.73 acres for sale for $1.35 million and has 220 feet of canal frontage that’ll get you right to the Detroit River.
But not included in the property deed is Detroit’s weird and eccentric soul embodied in part by the Goat Yard crew. It is a spirit I hope never leaves our 139 square miles. It is priceless and part of what makes our city special.
To the Detroit Boat Works, I’ll be heading to 95 St. Jean sometime soon for one last, “Hoy, Hoy, Hara!” as grandmother used to cheer.