The Marine Gateway was constructed to honor the area’s once-vibrant Ann Arbor Railroad car ferry services across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. Frankfort, Michigan, was home to the first Lake Michigan car ferry in 1892, linking it with Kewaunee, Wisconsin. At one time Ann Arbor Railroad car ferries linked Frankfort with Manistique, Escanaba, Gladstone, and Menominee in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as well as Kewaunee, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The car ferries operated out of the Frankfort-Elberta harbor in Betsie Bay for 90 years until 1982.
The gateway was originally built closer to downtown across Main Street by local businessman Joe Winkler in 1925 and was composed of stones gathered from Lake Michigan beaches. It also featured support towers that resembled lighthouses and a model of a car ferry atop the arch. The structure has been moved and updated several times since 1925 and now sits on the hilltop at the eastern edge of town. It still includes the lighthouses and the car ferry.
Initially, the Marine Gateway only stated “Frankfort” on one side and “Scenic M-22 Road” with an arrow pointing toward the route on the opposite. Later versions included statements such as “The Home of the Ann Arbor Railroad Car Ferry Fleet,” “A Growing Resort City,” “Beautiful Crystal Lake Resorts 2 Miles North.”
Today, the Marine Gateway states “Frankfort Welcomes You” on one side and “Frankfort Welcomes Your Return” on the opposite side. It is an iconic visual and historic reminder of summer trips up north, weekend getaways to the beach, and family vacations.
Know Before You Go
Use caution when stopping to visit or photograph the Marine Gateway, due to traffic on M-115 and sight distance on the hilltop. The sign spans M-115 (Frankfort Highway) close to the entrance to the Dollar General store.