It’s as much a Mackinac Island institution as Grand Hotel, is older than the 1887 resort, and it floats.
The beginnings of Arnold Ferry Line date to 1878 when George T. Arnold, co-owner of a local lumber company, partnered with L.B. Coats in the Arnold and Coats Ferry Line to deliver building materials to the growing community on Mackinac Island.
Arnold Transit Company still shuttles freight and goods, but has also catered to vacationers since the Victorian era and is the oldest ferry line in the Straits of Mackinac.
We skimmed across the choppy waters between Mackinaw City and the Island aboard a sleek catamaran, although Arnold also operates traditional ferry boats from St. Ignace in the UP. The newer, larger vessels can make the trip in 15 minutes, about half the time of the classic ferries.
In the 1920s the Arnold family sold the business to accountant Otto Lang and attorney Prentiss M. Brown, Sr. and today Brown’s descendants operate the company.
Anyone familiar with the history of the 5-mile suspension bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac will recognize the name Prentiss M. Brown, known as “Father of the Mackinac Bridge” for his efforts to get the engineering marvel built.
Brown, who was born in St. Ignace and became a U.S. Senator and Representative for Michigan, saw the need for a bridge to replace the ferries that served as the only connection between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957.
One man’s contributions to Michigan’s commerce and tourism. Ferry interesting, don’t you think?
NOTE: Two other ferry lines service Mackinac Island from both St. Ignace and Mackinac City: Star Line and Shepler’s Ferry. Check with each line for sunset, July 4th, lighthouse, vesper, and other special cruises.