As you enter Manistee from the north on U.S. 31, the S.S. City of Milwaukee is an impressive reminder of the heyday of waterborne transportation on the Great Lakes. It’s a relic of the days when numerous ferries carried rail cars, automobiles, and passengers across the lakes.
Launched on November 25, 1930, the S.S. City of Milwaukee ferried railroad cars across Lake Michigan for more than 50 years. The 354-foot-long boat operated under the flag of the Grand Trunk Railroad for approximately 47 years before being acquired by the Ann Arbor Railroad for the last four years of its formal service.
The ferry could carry between 28 and 30 loaded railroad cars across the lake, generally on either the Muskegon, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, route or between Frankfort and Elberta, Michigan, and Kewaunee and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
For many years after its service was discontinued, the ferry sat anchored in Elbert, Michigan, before it was acquired and moved to Manistee. It was then restored and repurposed as a museum and a bed and breakfast. The S.S. City of Milwaukee is listed as a National Historic Landmark.