Friday, January 13, 2023

Overnight in Ludington Michigan

…continuing with our late summer road trip to Michigan and beyond.  This was our last overnight stop in Michigan before heading south.

We’d wandered around for most of the day, taking side roads and local highways…and as shown in the previous blog post, we finally settled in at Ludington, taking in as many sights as possible before the sun set.

The photo shown above is the Mason County Courthouse.  Ludington is the county seat.  The Richardson-Romanesque style courthouse was completed in 1894 with the tower clock being added in 1907.  Strangely, beginning in October 2010, the tower clock has 13 strikes of the clock bell at 1 o’clock, whether or not it’s actually 1 AM or 1 PM.  This is the fourth building to serve as the county courthouse…and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

FYI…Mason County is growing.  There were 29,052 residents counted in the 2020 census.  However, Ludington itself is shrinking.  It now has about 7,655 residents’ vs 9,506 in 1950.  Part of the decline is most likely related to a decline in railroad and freight service across Lake Michigan.

The harbor at Ludington Michigan is large and well-protected from the storms that arise on Lake Michigan.  For the tourist, there are lots of shops and restaurants to explore as well as a well-equipped marina.  The town is a major tourist destination with miles and miles of sandy beaches, forests, parks and fishing in close proximity.

But, as shown in the second photo above, not all ships in Ludington’s harbor are sail boats, cruisers, yachts or fishing craft.  Those 2 ships dwarf everything else...

As I’d mentioned in a previous post about Elberta Michigan, rail car service was introduced to the Great Lakes in 1892.  As many as 14 ships operated at the system’s peak.  These ships could carry as many as 34 railroad cars across the often stormy and ice-packed lakes at any time of the year.  I can’t identify the rail car ferry entering Ludington Harbor in the postcard shown above.  It definitely predates any existing vessels on the Great Lakes.

I do know that the last cross-lake ferry ended service on 11/16/1990, when the former Chesapeake and Ohio Railway car ferry, the SS Badger made the final trip between Kewaunee Wisconsin and Ludington Michigan

Of course, being a fan of ships, planes and automobiles, I had to get closer to those big ships in Ludington’s harbor.  The “SS Spartan” was launched in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin in early January of 1952.  Her sister ship, the “SS Badger” was being built at the same time and a double christening was in order. Many cities on both sides of Lake Michigan had lobbied for their names to be put on these new ships…after all, it had been the tradition.

The ships were built for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and that company decided that fewer feelings would be hurt if the twin ferries were named after the mascots of Michigan State College (now MSU) and the University of Wisconsin.

By 1972, cross-lake rail car service was gradually curtailed with all but the 3 newest vessels being retired.  Sailings to Milwaukee and Manitowoc Wisconsin were discontinued, with only the Ludington to Kewaunee Wisconsin route remaining.  The railroad sold its steamers to a businessman who tried to keep the service running.  As mentioned previously, the final ship ceased rail car service in November of 1990.

However, a Ludington native, philanthropist and entrepreneur named Charles Conrad, purchased all 3 remaining ferries on July 9, 1991…and these ship’s missions were changed.

This is the “SS Spartan’s” sister ship, the “SS Badger”.  When Charles Conrad purchased the former rail car ferries, he overhauled and refitted the “SS Badger” exclusively for carrying passengers and automobiles across Lake Michigan.  She is 410 feet long and can carry as many as 600 passengers and 180 vehicles.  Currently the SS Badger shuttles 62 miles across the lake between Ludington and Manitowoc Wisconsin…thereby connecting US Hwy 10 between those 2 cities.  The SS Badger is the last ‘coal-fired’ passenger vessel operating on the Great Lakes.  It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The “SS Badger” operates on a seasonal basis from May to October each year.  The trip across the lake takes about 4 hours each way and a sailing is rarely missed due to weather.  The ship is a registered historical site in both Michigan and Wisconsin and its engine/propulsion system has been designated as a ‘mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  As for the SS Spartan, due to the rarity of these twin ship’s coal-burning ‘Skinner Unaflow’ steam engines that were used by both ships, the Spartan has been valuable as a ‘parts ship’ to keep her twin operating.  She’s also been used for police training...

To learn more about the “SS Badger”, its schedule, rates (the ship even features some staterooms), and more, go to  Given all the time I’ve lived in Illinois or Michigan, I just don’t know why I’ve never taken the time to travel on the “SS Badger”!  It’s both a ‘one of a kind’ experience and its living history too…

Time for dinner… I’d researched the dining possibilities in Ludington and I’d settled on the Jamesport Brewing Co. on James Street.  A slice of history, the Jamesport Brewing Co. is located in a late Victorian 6-store front complex.  The earliest section was completed in 1890 and it was occupied by the Red Andrews Saloon and the Central House Hotel.  The second section was added in 1892 and the final 4 storefronts were completed in 1905.

The ground level storefronts have served many purposes over the years.  They include a butcher shop, a millinery, a theater, dry cleaners, hardware store, clothing shop, furniture stores, the State Liquor Control Commission store, a bicycle shop and as the local headquarters for the National Maritime Union.  Currently, Jamesport Brewing Company and Sunset Bay Antiques occupy the storefronts.

These photos show the bar area and part of the dining area for Jamesport Brewing Company.

Ludington was originally named Pere Marquette.  Later it was renamed after industrialist James Ludington, whose logging operations were initially the core of the town.  When Ludington platted out the city, he made it clear that he opposed the consumption of alcohol in the city that would bear his name.  “All deeds for the town’s initial lots had a condition that no liquors are to be sold on the premises…”

In 1873, that ‘no liquor’ policy was soon altered by the City Council.  In May of 1896, it was reported that as many as 36 saloons had been operating in the city.  The Johnson Brothers’ Hotel and Saloon was located in the 400 Block of South James Street in Ludington, the space now occupied by the Jamesport Brewing Company.

While I rarely drink any alcoholic beverages at this point in my life, I did indulge in this case, pairing Laurie’s “White Sangria” which contained blueberries, with my ‘safe’ bottle of Miller Lite. ($6.25 and $3.75 respectively)

A total of 13 Jamesport Brewing Company craft brews are offered.  If I’d ordered one for me, it would have gone something like this: “I’d like the lightest tasting beer that JBC brews…and I don’t like a ‘hoppy’ beer.”  If your observation is that I am stuck in the mud, beer-wise, you’d be right.  Offerings like Pumpkin Wheat, Blueberry Wheat and Apricot Wheat just don’t do much for me.  On the other hand, Laurie is more experimental and we both have family members who love all the variety offered by brew pubs in this day and age.  

I do love the creative descriptions that craft brewers imagine for their different beers… For example: “BBA Imperial Stout – 12.5% ABV.  Aged in Grand Traverse Distillery bourbon barrels.  Toffee start, chocolate covered cherry finish, with boozy warmth.”  Sounds like dessert doesn’t it?!  10 oz. glass of beer $7.00, limit 2 per customer...

On to our meals… Laurie decided to order the Beer Battered Fish and Chips. ($18.25) Pollack fillets are hand dipped in JBC beer batter, fried crisp and then served with Brewhouse fries and tartar sauce.  The fish and chips entrée turned out to be a winner…and the order was plentiful in all regards.

Given that this area of Michigan is all about cherries, it was no surprise that ‘cherry’ shows up quite a bit on the menu.  For example, there is a Cherry Bourbon Sirloin, a 6 oz. sirloin glazed with cherry bourbon sauce and served with a choice of potato. ($26.00) Another ‘cherry’ option would be the Cherry Chicken Wrap. ($14.50) Grilled chicken breast with mixed greens, dried Michigan cherries, pecans, bleu cheese crumbles and fat-free cherry vinaigrette…all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.

I decided to have a sandwich for my dinner entrée.  I chose the “Brewhouse French Dip Tender”, shaved roast beef on a hoagie with creamy horseradish and au jus. ($12.75) For $2.95 more I could have added Swiss cheese, onion and mushrooms...but I didn’t take the option.  The amount of roast beef on my sandwich was generous and the quality of the beef itself was about what I would expect...better than just OK but not excellent.  Plenty of food…that was for sure!  

Other sandwiches include the Perch Sandwich – 2 fillets ($12.00) or a complex sounding a Turkey Goat Cheese Panini, ($13.50) with smoked turkey, creamed goat cheese, a sliced pear and spinach on grilled sunflower multi-grain bread with a side of sweet habanero sauce.  Jamesport Brewing Company also serves burgers including a vegan “Spicy Black Bean Burger” ($11.00) Again with the cherries though… How about the Cherry Bourbon Burger…a half pound burger glazed with JBC’s homemade cherry sauce and then topped with melted pepper jack cheese and Sriracha fried onions. ($13.00)

Well, we skipped all the cherry options with our entrees…but we still ‘needed’ a dessert!  We chose the “Bananas Foster” with ice cream. ($9.75) It was a nice way to finish our dinner. (Not great food photos this time...)

Jamesport Brewing Company in Ludington Michigan offers a large menu with 17 appetizers, a couple of soups, dinner salads, 15 plus sandwiches and burgers, 5 wraps, 10 entrees…plus specials…and 6 desserts.  Service was competent.  To learn more about the restaurant and to check out the menu, just go to:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Looks like that you and Laurie had a great time in Michigan. The courthouse looks really beautiful. Fish in beer batter sounds really good to me, but roast beef is better :-)

  2. We drove by the Badger as it was loading when we were up that way. Both of your meals look good and Lauries fish seems to have a real crispy coating.

  3. What an interesting trip it would be to cross the lake in that ferry...especially if you were going to the other side (can't remember which side of the lake you were on!)