First-of-its-kind Pere Marquette car ferry made maiden voyage on this day in 1897

LUDINGTON, MI – One-hundred and nineteen years ago today, the legacy of modern Lake Michigan car ferries began.

It was Feb. 16, 1897 when the Pere Marquette 15, the first all-steel car ferry, made its first crossing between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisc.The Pere Marquette Ferry #18

Built in 1896 by F.W. Wheeler Co. in Bay City and designed by naval architect Robert Logan, the vessel set the standard for Great Lakes car ferry design.

The “15” was the first of the Pere Marquette/C&O Fleet that would eventually include 12 more car ferries. The last, the still-in-operation SS Badger, made its maiden voyage in 1957.

A Muskegon Chronicle article published in February of 1959 cited a Ludington Record report from November of 1897; the 15’s first year of service. It stated:

“During the recent spell of rough weather the car ferry Pere Marquette was given a severe test, which not only fully established her sea-going qualities, but also proved the practibility of handling and landing the big craft in a gale.”

“The weather on this shore both Wednesday and Thursday was violent and changeable and yet the ferry made her usual two trips per day without interruption or mishap.  In spite of her large exposed surface, it is believed that she has sufficient power to take her to windward in almost any kind of weather.  It was found that she rolled considerably but not enough to move her cars or loosen their fastenings.”

The Pere Marquette 15 continued service until 1930, when she was laid up in Ludington. There it remained until it was scrapped in Manitowoc in 1935, but many vessels would bear the Pere Marquette moniker in the years to come.

The Pere Marquette 17, 18, 19, 20 were built in 1901 to help handle the increasing tonnage in Ludington. The Pere Marquette 21 and 22 followed in 1924 and the turbo-electric car ferries, The City of Saginaw and The City of Flint, in 1929. Finally, in March of 1941, the City of Midland made its maiden voyage.

Muskegon resident Paul Elkins remembered his days working in the Pere Marquette fleet shop and traveling on the Pere Marquette 17 in a Muskegon Chronicle article published on Feb. 5, 1959.

In the article, Elkins recalled “the unusual combination of circumstances” that led to him handling the wheel of the vessel during its final run from Manitowoc to Ludington before its sale to the state in 1940.

“I wasn’t licensed for this sort of job, but I did have the necessary experience,” he said. “It was a sad occasion, since most of us had a deep affection for the vessel and hated to see her go. She sailed for several seasons out of Muskegon and it will be grand to see her back. She has a story to tell.”

Car ferries continue to have an impact on Lake Michigan in 2016. The SS Badger, the last coal-fired ship on the Great Lakes, travels the same route between Manitowoc and Ludington each season.

By Brandon Champion | bchampio@mlive.com
 

Great Lakes Cruise Ships

Great Lakes Cruise Ship

Great Lakes Cruise Ship

Each year, more than 20 million passengers take cruise vacations — nearly 60 percent of them choosing Caribbean or Mediterranean itineraries, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.

The Great Lakes region doesn’t even appear on the organization’s list of cruise options, but perhaps it should. Everything travelers love about cruises — luxury amenities, great food and memorable ports of call — can be found right here in the Midwest.

The Great Lakes Cruise Company, for example, has a fleet of three luxury cruise ships and offers itineraries ranging from one to two weeks. Now in its 16th year, it bills itself as the world’s only travel company specializing in Great Lakes cruises.

Its eight-day Magical Lake Michigan itinerary starts and ends in Chicago and includes ports of call such as Beaver Island, Mackinac Island and Wisconsin’s picturesque Door County.

Its 16-day Great American Waterways cruise starts in Chicago and ends in Warren, R.I. Along the way, the ship travels through four of the Great Lakes, as well as the Erie Canal, the Hudson River and Narragansett Bay.

And its Great Lakes and Georgian Bay cruise, which tends to sell out months in advance, travels from Toronto to Chicago — with a stop at Niagara Falls along the way.

Prices range from $1,999 to $10,500 per person, depending on the ship, the type of room selected and the length of the trip.
The Tall Ship Manitou is also based in Traverse City, Mich., but it offers a very different experience. At 114 feet, it is one of the largest traditional sailing vessels on the Great Lakes, and it can accommodate nearly 60 passengers.

The Manitou is known primarily for its day trips and overnight “floating bed and breakfast” options — with the boat secured at the pier overnight.

But each September and October, the Manitou offers a handful of longer trips, such as a three-day fall foliage tour, a four-day astronomy cruise and a four-day wine cruise. Prices range from $529 to $889 per person.

Travelers who want to spend a night on Lake Michigan — despite a limited budget — can instead book a berth on the S.S. Badger. The car ferry shuttles across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wisc.

From June to September, passengers traveling without cars can book an overnight, round-trip “mini cruise” for $89 — plus $49 each way for an optional private stateroom. The ferry leaves Ludington at 8:30 p.m., just in time for sunset, and returns in time for sunrise.