Friday, January 6, 2023

Elberta Michigan – Moving South to Ludington

…continuing with our late summer 2022 road trip to Michigan and beyond.  We followed Michigan Hwy. 22 south along the coast of Lake Michigan from Leland.  Ludington Michigan was our overnight destination.

This is a view of Frankfort Michigan from the opposite side of Betsie Lake and the census designated place, the village of Elberta.  The view was so peaceful that it reminded us of the feeling one gets along the coast of Maine.  Elberta was first settled in 1855.  In 1895 it was incorporated as South Frankfort…but then in 1911, the village was renamed for the local Elberta peach.  The 2020 census recorded 329 residents vs. 631 in 1910.

Beginning in the 1890s and continuing until July of 1950, the Ann Arbor Railroad operated ferries carrying rail cars from docks at Elberta.  The ferries crossed Lake Michigan to two points in Wisconsin and another ferry line went north to Gladstone Michigan in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The potential for a safe harbor via Lake Betsie and the Betsie River that could be used for shipping lumber was recognized at an early date.  At that time it was referred to as the Aux Becs Scies harbor.  At one point the channel to Lake Michigan was 200 feet wide and 9 feet deep, accommodating most commercial vessels from the late 1800s.  By 1870, there were piers on both sides of the harbor, one being 600 feet long and the other 550 feet long.  It was reported that 4 to 10 vessels arrived at Frankfort and Elberta every day… It had to be a bustling place, but we like the way it is today!

This building was built in Elberta in 1887 as a station of the U.S. Life Saving Service.  The building was used until 1935 when a new Coast Guard Station was built on the Frankfort side of the lake.  One man would be in the cupola with an eye open while another walked the beach watching for ships or sailors in distress.  Lake Michigan was a busy commercial seaway…especially when commercial fishermen were included.  Over 1,500 shipwrecks lie on the bottom of the lake.  The unofficial motto of the Life-Saving Service was “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” 

The United States Life-Saving Service was a Federal government agency that grew out of private and local humanitarian efforts to save shipwrecked sailors and passengers.  It began in 1848, ultimately merging with the Revenue Cutter Service and then folding into the newly created United State Coast Guard in 1915.

FYI, the Life Saving Station in Elberta Michigan is available for weddings and other special events.  A full day rental on a Saturday from May 1 through October 31, would cost $4,000.  For more information, you can go to

Laurie took this selfie of us with Frankfort and Lake Betsie in the background.  We are happiest while enjoying one of our road trips!

We had rejoined US Hwy 31 and our next stop along the way was in Manistee Michigan.   This is the ‘SS City of Milwaukee’, a Great Lakes railroad car ferry that once regularly crossed Lake Michigan.  She was built in 1931 for the Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company and she is the only pre-1940s ship of this type to survive.  The ‘City of Milwaukee’, a steel-hulled ship, had a carrying capacity of 28 – 30 loaded rail cars.  The second photo was 'borrowed' from the Internet.

Rail car ferry service had been introduced to the Great Lakes in 1892.  At one time there were as many as 14 vessels of the type operating on the various Great Lakes.  The ‘City of Milwaukee’ with its ice breaking hull, sailed for the Grand Trunk until 1978 when she was chartered to the Ann Arbor Railroad.  She was permanently retired in 1982.

Today, the ‘SS City of Milwaukee’ serves as a museum ship, a bed and breakfast and an event venue.  Every October the ship is transformed into Manistee’s ‘Ghost Ship, with nearly the entire ship being turned into a haunted attraction to raise funds for her maintenance.  She is permanently moored on Manistee Lake in Manistee Michigan and she is a National Historic Landmark.

More information regarding this attraction will follow…

The United States Coast Guard Cutter “Acacia” (WAGL-406/WLB-406) is moored right next to the “SS City of Milwaukee”.  The ‘Acacia’ is an Iris-class 180-foot seagoing buoy tender that spent most of her 62 year Coast Guard career on the Great Lakes...although she did spend a bit of time in the Caribbean Sea fighting smugglers and dealing with seaborne refugees.  The ‘Acacia’ was equipped for ice breaking, search and rescue, fire-fighting, logistics, oil spill response and other tasks. 

After her Coast Guard days ended and the ‘Acacia’ was decommissioned, she was in limbo with one plan or another to utilize her as an attraction.  Finally, in October of 2009 she steamed under her own power from northern Indiana to Manistee.  Dedicated in her new museum role as part of the SS City of Milwaukee National Historic Landmark Museum in August of 2011, she is now open to the public as part of the museum. 

To learn more about the museum, it’s 2 ships and available events and tours, just go to

The Manistee Iron Works was a large manufacturing facility that was based in Manistee.  The company has gone out of business, but the building that was constructed in 1907 still bears the company’s name and it’s a landmark in Manistee’s historic district.  The machine shop at the Manistee Iron Works was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 2010.  For a time, this structure was occupied by a motion picture production company but today, its primary occupant is the “3rd Life Brewing Company”.  That venue just opened for business in November of 2022.  You can check it out at

In 1872, construction of the building to the left of the Iron Works was contracted for by Peter Jones, a local businessman.  He wanted a brick building that would serve as a combination home and grocery/drug store.  Over the next several years, Jones developed a large business among his German brethren.  After Jones passed away, his wife continued to operate the store until that part of the building was leased to the Manistee and North Eastern Railroad Company.  It served as their “River Street Station and Ticket Office” but the family continued to live in their portion of the building until 1952.  Today the building is occupied by an insurance and financial services agency.

Built ca. 1872, shortly after the Great Fire of 1871, the Milwaukee House was used as a hotel for mill-hands and woodsmen working in Manistee who needed a place to stay.  With a basement that at one time included a saloon, the hotel was apparently the scene for a lot of disruption and many fights.  Once the mills began to close, the building became a boarding house and later, it was used as a warehouse for the Manistee Iron Works.  In 1987, it was converted to a Bed and Breakfast with Inn-keepers quarters, 7 guest rooms and spacious lounge areas.  From what I could determine, today it may be a private residence.

The City of Manistee was founded in 1841 when a couple of brothers built a saw mill within the present city limits.  It almost immediately became a lumber boom town. By 1861 the town had 1,000 residents.  In 1869 alone, almost 300 building were added to the town.  In 1871, the Great Fire destroyed most of downtown and the surrounding industrial areas.  The re-build was done using brick… Then in 1878 rock salt was discovered near the city and by 1900, Manistee was home to 22,700 people.  Today, based on the 2020 census, the town has 6,259 residents.

I thought that this was the former Chesapeake and Ohio Depot in Manistee.  after all, its next to the railroad tracks and it looks like it may have been built in the late 1800s or early 2000s.  Unfortunately, the original depot burned down and was eventually razed.  This ‘depot like’ structure, complete with a caboose, was built in 1986 and it was designed to resemble a depot.  For a time, the building served as a retail store specializing in model trains, educational toys and gifts.  The sign on top read “The Train Station”.  Today, the building is occupied by an attorney’s office.

Manistee is the county seat for Manistee County.  In 1830, the village of Manistee was one of about 15 Odawa (Ottawa) Native American Villages along the shore of Lake Michigan.  Much of the Manistee River Valley, including Manistee itself, was designated at an Odawa Reservation from 1836 to 1848.

NOTE: The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 was actually a series of simultaneous and scattered forest fires.  Several cities, including Alpena, Holland, Manistee and Port Huron were either destroyed or suffered serious damage.  An estimated 500 lives were lost and 3,900 square miles were destroyed.  It should be pointed out that the Peshtigo Fire, which burned 1,200,000 acres and killed between 1,500 and 2,500 people, as well as the famous Chicago Fire, all occurred on the same day!  The history of the Peshtigo Fire is even more stunning than the Chicago fire but despite the vast damage done and the lives lost, it has garnered far less attention in the history books.  Check it out at

The building at the right is the United States Coast Guard Station in Ludington Michigan.  This new Coast Guard Station was finished and went into operation in 2004.  Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan includes 21 Coast Guard Stations/Units that are responsible for 1,638 miles of shoreline and 19,000 miles of surface water.  This sector covers four states, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.  In addition, numerous intercostal waterways, the Chicago River and 138 Miles of the Illinois Des Plaines River are covered.  This particular station is responsible for 35 nautical miles of coastline and over 1,000 miles of surface water.

This is the old Coast Guard Station at Ludington.  It was built in 1934 and it had wooden lifeboats mounted on rails inside the station.  The Coast Guard transferred its operations to the new Station as shown above in 2004. 

So, just how hazardous could the Great Lakes be back in the early days?  In the 1870 – 1871 shipping season alone, there were more than 1,100 disasters and 261 lives lost.  As a consequence, in 1874 the United States Congress authorized two lifeboat stations on Lake Michigan and by 1878, 3 more were approved including stations at Manistee and Ludington.

This is another photo of the former Coast Guard Station in Ludington.  In the photo showing the new station, (two photos above), you can see this building from the side.  The 88 year old building has been transformed for a new life as the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum. 

This former Coast Guard Station has been reimagined into a state of the art museum with both permanent and changing exhibits, which include artifacts, old photos and the voices of those who played critical roles in the maritime industries that shaped the region.  This family-friendly 3-story museum overlooks Lake Michigan’s shoreline, Ludington Harbor’s iconic North Pier Light and the historic car ferry, the SS Badger.  To learn more about the museum you can go to or for a more expansive look at historical sites in the area.

I thought that it would be appropriate to end this post with Laurie’s photo of the late afternoon sun shining over Lake Michigan and Ludington's North Pier Light…

My next post will take a break from our late summer road trip, returning to more current happenings.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

1 comment:

  1. I love the beautiful view of Frankfort Michigan..the Milwaukee House today still looks very impressive. The parting shot from Laurie is breathtakingly beautiful.