The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910. Source: The shed Panoramas, released by CityFiles Press

A postcard from the new Arlington Hotel, in Petoskey, Michigan, where numerous Chicagoans flocked in the summer month to escape the summer heat and histamines. of small Traverse Bay background Museum

This map depicts 1947 and 2015 travel times from Chicago to St. Joseph and also South Haven, Michigan, via ferry and car travel. Because that details on data and sources, click on image.

The Lake refer is a high-speed ferry from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Muskegon, Michigan. President and also founder Ken Szallai states the company is feasible from Milwaukee, yet would contend too much with the federal government if he opened up up shop in Chicago. Flickr/Lake Express


The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910. Source: The lost Panoramas, released by CityFiles Press
A postcard native the new Arlington Hotel, in Petoskey, Michigan, where numerous Chicagoans flocked in the summer months to escape the summer heat and histamines. of little Traverse Bay background Museum
This map depicts 1947 and also 2015 travel times from Chicago to St. Joseph and also South Haven, Michigan, via ferry and car travel. For details ~ above data and sources, click image.
The Lake to express is a high-speed ferry native Milwaukee, Wisconsin come Muskegon, Michigan. President and also founder Ken Szallai claims the company is feasible indigenous Milwaukee, however would complete too much with the federal government if he opened up shop in Chicago. Flickr/Lake Express

Barbara Laing is a vibrant, five-cups-of-coffee-a-day kind of person. And also that caffeine does not go to waste; Barbara owns and operates a little photography and framing shop in Chicago’s West Andersonville neighborhood, and she needs to hustle to keep all the balls in the air.

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Come summertime, Barbara demands a breather. One escape. So, periodically she’ll collection aside a weekend and venture come Southwestern Michigan to acquire away from the tension of she business and also to-do lists: “I simply love to sort of bag around. I love to relax … take it walks under by the lake. There’s many beautiful rocks that you discover on Lake Michigan end there top top the sands.”

But when Barbara it s okay in her auto to head earlier to Chicago top top Sunday, I-94 looks more like a parking lot 보다 a freeway. That’s once her internal dialogue begins: “I’m simply like, take it yourself the end of this moment, save your eyes on the road, but just remember that walk you took on the lake. Remember the nice meal you had actually … and remember the will be over in, oh, ns don’t know, 3 or 4 hours.”

One work while strolling along Lake Michigan, Barbara dreamed of an alternate way to do the trip, and also asked united state to investigate:

Has there ever before been a ferry between Chicago and also Michigan, and also why isn’t there one now?

Barbara has always had a details reverence because that Lake Michigan (“It’s sort of poetic come be the end on the water,” she says), but even if you nothing share she feelings, you’ve probably been stuck in a horrible vehicle trip at some point and deserve to relate come rooting for an alternative.

So can a lake ferry be that different — a waterborne savior, if girlfriend will? space your finger’s crossed?

When Lake Michigan was Chicago’s superhighway

Turns out, there was an alternative! It’s just that, at the time, human being called them steamers, not ferries.

In the mid-19th century, earlier before car or trucks paved roads, the an excellent Lakes were the region’s superhighways. Grand steamships darted from harbor to harbor, do money by moving products and also people.

The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads eastern under the State Street leg in 1910. (Source: The lost Panoramas, released by CityFiles Press)

Ted Karamanski, a public historian at Loyola University, emphasizes the both revenue streams were an important to the benefit of the steamship industry.

“These were steamships that brought excursionists the end for a day of fun on Lake Michigan, or castle would lug light production goods and also then, of food … new fruit indigenous Southwest Michigan come the Chicago produce markets,” he says.

In the 1880’s, passenger web traffic was thriving. There were two various kinds of tourist on the lake: the daytrippers and the overnighters.

Daytrippers went from “Chicago come Michigan City, or Chicago come St. Joseph, fairly short three, four, 5 hour trips” across the lake, states Karamanski. St. Joseph, Michigan, even came to be known as Chicago’s Coney Island. Human being would picnic and lounge and splash around and then jump ~ above the watercraft at 5:00 p.m. And also be ago in Chicago by nightfall.

The overnighters took 12-hour trips up to Northwest Michigan, bringing tourist to destinations prefer Grand Traverse Bay, little Traverse Bay, even some come Mackinac Island for longer stays, Karamanski says. This were typically wealthy travelers who might afford to spend weeks or even months away from the city.

But not every one of the region’s tourist traveled just to unwind. Prior to antihistamines, many Chicagoans escaped their allergies in the crisp air of north Michigan. Tiny tent cities popped up along the shore; lock were called “achoo clubs.”

“They would normally be arranged by different religious denominations,” Karamanski explains. “So the Methodists would have actually a club where world could go, and the Presbyterians would certainly be in one more place, the Baptists what else.” that way, husbands who stayed in the city for the summer to work might rest assured that their wives and also children were escaping the heat and also histamines in a safe, morally righteous place. With time the tiny tent colonies occurred into swarm of cottages, and eventually those cottages ended up being enormous victorian manors.

At the rotate of the critical century, Petoskey was just one that the numerous popular destinations the catered come Chicago tourists along the northern coast of Michigan. (Fun fact: In 1882 the western Hay fever Association christened Petoskey together its main headquarters.)

A postcard from the brand-new Arlington Hotel, in Petoskey, Michigan, where plenty of Chicagoans flocked in the summer months to to escape the summer heat and histamines. ( of small Traverse Bay history Museum)

Jane Garver, Co-Executive director of the tiny Traverse Bay historical Museum in Petoskey, imagines the area available a literal meaning breath of fresh air to jaded Chicagoans: “If I got off the boat from Chicago … I would certainly be for this reason relieved come arrive here on tiny Traverse Bay: cool breezes, a beautiful area, million-dollar sunsets, and also plenty to carry out without being so overwhelming the you wouldn’t understand what to do.”

There was an opera house and dance halls and tea rooms — you surname it.

“People could be surprised to understand that there were so numerous well-known surname that visited here,” Garver says. “In fact, ns surprised as soon as I go v records and see … ‘Oh yes, Amelia Earhart, she come here and also spoke here.’” note Twain gave a lecture, and Ernest Hemingway wiled away his childhood summers in ~ his family’s cottage. The perform goes on.

The decrease of steamships

But, you should know, a trip on a steamer was not all fun and games. Karamanski detailed that, in high winds, it might get a small bouncy top top the lake, “which can make this nice little cruise delivery what occasionally they provided to speak to a vomit comet.”

And sometimes, the boats were simply plain unsafe. Favor the S.S. Eastland. Girlfriend may have actually heard around this: ~ above July 24, 1915, about 2,500 civilization boarded the Eastland because that Western electrical Company’s yearly employee picnic once the boat tipped right into the murky Chicago River.

844 human being died in the accident, 20 feet from dried land. “You would certainly think the this can be type of the death knell that steamships,” Karamanski explains. “But that wasn’t.”

Cars were.

Steamships take it a huge hit after the arrival of the automobile. People and also products — the 2 legs the the steamship sector stood ~ above — were no much longer bound come the waterways. Karamanski emphasizes that no everyone defected native the steamers appropriate away: “Steamers to be still very popular through the at an early stage ‘20s, but beginning in around 1925, we watch a steep decline in the number of people traveling by steamship, and also this is tied come the improvement of roads, an especially in Michigan. Since Michigan was the facility for the automotive business, they invest a the majority of money in good, contemporary roads.”

And, end time, the only got worse. During the 1950s, the federal government highway system began to zigzag throughout the nation. As framework improved, more and more people abandoned lake ferries in donate of their cars.

This map depicts 1947 and 2015 travel times native Chicago come St. Joseph and also South Haven, Michigan, via ferry and also car travel. For details top top data and sources, click on image.

There were after-effects for people and also communities on both political parties of the lake.

Karamanski believes Chicagoans shed a historic, intimate connection to the lake, which had actually helped the city develop in the first place.

“Just procedures away indigenous the pavement of Chicago, we acquired three-hundred mile of wilderness, an extraterrestrial environment, i m sorry if you don’t take care, it will kill you,” the says. “Most Chicagoans simply don’t evaluate that. It’s simply taken for granted prefer the water in ours taps.”

On the Michigan next of the equation, Garver claims that the highways drastically changed the challenge of Petoskey. Earlier in the day, “when travelers arrived by steamer or through train below … they had actually their choice of 15 different luxury hotels,” every centrally situated in the heart of downtown. Because the period of the automobile, all however one of the those 15 hotels one of two people went the end of business or shed down and was never ever rebuilt. Today, many of hotels period the federal government on the method into town, hope to it is in the first place you view well before you reach Petoskey’s historical city center.

The ferry-less fate the the Chicago region was sealed in 1958 v the perfect of the Chicago Skyway. Together Karmanski explains, the Skyway was “designed particularly to acquire people, fast, from downtown Chicago via the Dan Ryan Expressway to Southwest Michigan. For this reason why take a boat when you have the right to do that in an hour and also a half?”

But these days, in bad traffic, that exact same trip might take closer to 3 hours. Which leads one to wonder: can ferries make a comeback?

Is there a case to be produced a Chicago lake ferry revival?

Remember: Questioner Barbara Laing’s attention in the history of lake ferries is not simply nostalgic. She a company woman and also she to know a money-making opportunity once she sees one.

“Here’s the thing,” she says. “As a little business owner, you look for business ventures, and you think fine what else could I do?”

A Chicago ferry concerned mind, she says, but, “I don’t have a captain’s license, for this reason it’s no within my kingdom of experience. Yet somebody must do it.”

After all, there space two ferries that run on the lake today. Lake Express operation from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Muskegon, Michigan. The S.S. Badger operates in between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and also Ludington, Michigan. The stands to reason that Chicago, with its lakeside location and enormous metropolitan population, brimming with potential customers, could have a modern-day ferry service, too.


Wrong, states Ken Szallai, president and founder that Lake Express. His skilled opinion: “Running a ferry parallel to the federal government highway device is not a feasible ferry operation.”

Szallai explains that a Chicago ferry would complete with the interstate and Amtrak’s Pere Marquette line. Milwaukee’s ferry doesn’t have that problem; the Lake Express’ route is a right shot across the water, which help customers cut out thousands of miles of travel roughly the lake.

The Lake express is a high-speed ferry native Milwaukee, Wisconsin come Muskegon, Michigan. President and founder Ken Szallai says the business is feasible from Milwaukee, but would contend too lot with the federal government if he opened up up shop in Chicago. (Flickr/Lake Express)

Szallai says when you aspect in the fierce competition, plus operation expenses and the short operating season thanks to the ar fierce winter … Well, he’s not going to invest in a Chicago ferry at any time soon.

But the hasn’t stopped other human being from trying. Douglas Callaghan of grand Rapids, Michigan, chuckles once asked around a business venture that pioneered end a te ago: “Oh yes, the well known ferry.”

Why was it infamous, you can be wondering? “Well, due to the fact that it never made it right into the water,” Callaghan retorts.

In 2003 and also 2004, Callaghan’s little company, LEF Corp (Lake refer Ferry), attempted come reinstate a ferry service in between Chicago’s marine Pier and Benton harbor in St. Joseph, Michigan. They conducted a feasibility study, assessing travel demand and what form of boat would be ideal suited come the project. And, together Callaghan put it, “there were about five super-rich lovers of catamarans — no all American — who invested in our proposal.”

Kim Gallagher of the Southwestern Michigan to plan Commission to be a consultant ~ above LEF Corp’s proposal in ~ the time. She remembers that the local community was delighted once investors were carried in because that a tourism of the port: “The Benton Harbor, St. Joseph area was really supportive of the project because it offered second mode of transport to get around the lake in 2 and fifty percent hours.”

Both Gallagher and Callaghan agree the the main reason for the proposal’s fail originated on the various other side of the lake. “I think somewhere along the line, a post came down from ~ above high in Chicago that stated we’re not going to carry out it,” Callaghan recalls. “Every time we turned around, another issue would come up.”

After awhile, it came to be clear come Callaghan that the proposal to be dead in the water and also LEF Corp disbanded.

When inquiry to comment on the factors that Callaghan’s proposal dropped through, Nick Shields, director of interactions for marine Pier, Inc., has actually this come say: “It is our knowledge that the firm went the end of company in 2004 and also we walk not obtain a last proposal before then.”

Still, Shields affirms that Navy Pier remains open up to the idea the a ferry revival: “Yes, marine Pier, Inc. Would think about a future investor’s proposal. We view the idea together a distinctive opportunity to bring new visitors come Chicago.”

Who knows? If maritime an innovation improves and ferries get faster while Chicago-area traffic gets worse, and an international warming heats increase the planet and eliminates ours icy winters, maybe, just maybe, someone will revive a Chicago-Michigan ferry.

Should the day come, Barbara Laing will be the very first in line to go the end on the water and also float every the way to Michigan, just like the generations that Chicagoans before her: “It’s other that human being long to do, ns think. If yes water there, you desire to go out in it.”

Chloe Prasinos is an independent reporter and producer based in Chicago. Follow her

Notes on map:

Ferry travel times because that 1947 were calculated v an average speed that 19 mph and also based ~ above the routes illustrated in a associated infographic from Chicago Tribune archives. Ferry take trip times for 2015 were calculated with an average speed of 35 mph and informed by our interview through Ken Szallai, president and also founder the the Lake refer ferry in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Automobile travel courses from Chicago (Navy Pier) to St. Joseph and also South Haven, Michigan, depict general directions, not precise directions over certain streets, highways and also interstates. The 1947 route includes US 41 and Red arrow Highway, through an mean speed of 45 mph established in consultation with Joseph Schwieterman the DePaul University’s Chaddick institute for city Development. The 2015 auto travel time was argued by Google Maps v a route via I-90/94.

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Correction: An previously version that this story misstated the timeframe throughout which the U.S. Interstate Highway System influenced transportation choices and habits. The correct decade for delineating the start of that program is the 1950s.