MC History Spotlight: The origins of Ludington carferries nearly killed the town’s namesake.

April 19, 2019

MC History Spotlight: The origins of Ludington carferries nearly killed the town’s namesake.

F&PM engine No. 11

MC History Spotlight is a weekly history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Living and Memory Care. Each week this column features a story from our county’s past.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Editor’s Note: In observance of the seasonal opening of the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum earlier this week, I decided it would be appropriate to post a series about the origins of carferry service in Ludington. Since the origins of the carferries are directly related to the origins of rail service in Mason County, we will start there. 

The City of Ludington and the cross-lake carferries go hand in hand. But, the irony of the town’s iconic symbols is that their origins nearly killed the town’s namesake. 

James Ludington

In 1857, the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad received a land grant from the United States government to build a railroad from Flint to Pere Marquette (later known as Ludington). Construction began in East Saginaw in 1859 and reached Ludington in 1874. 

In 1868, F&PM President Eber Ward opened began negotiating with James Ludington for a terminal site in the town of Ludington with frontage on Pere Marquette Lake. The F&PM had been considering a cross-lake route to Manitowoc, Wisc. since 1859 because the trip around Lake Michigan was costly. At the time, the railroad had also considered placing the west terminus of the railroad in Pentwater.

James Ludington was the owner of the only lumber mill in the town he named after himself. He favored the completion of the railroad but he played hard ball in negotiating the terms, knowing that Ward intended to build mills to tap the lumber along the Pere Marquette River. Ludington feared the move would make Ward too big so he refused to sell a terminal site or mill sites at any price, hoping to convince Ward into selling some of his 70,000 acres of timber. Ward would not budge. 

Eber Ward

In 1869, Ward had learned that Ludington’s logging crews had cut pine from his land, an act that may have been unintentional. He kept quiet until Ludington went to Detroit on business and then had him arrested and lodged in the Wayne County Jail on charges of trespassing and timber theft. He secured a judgement of $65,000 against Ludington, who was financially ruined. Ludington suffered a stroke and was forced to quit business. 

Ludington’s associates then formed the Pere Marquette Lumber Company and reached an amicable agreement with Ward in August 1869 for both the railway terminal and the mill sites. 

The railroad was completed on Dec. 1, 1874, giving the F&PM 253 miles of main line. By 1877 the company had received 511,520.2 acres of federal land grants, of which over half – 275,741.69 acres – had been sold, contributing $2,369,729.21 to the railroad’s revenues. The railroad created or flourished towns that still exist along a route from Saginaw to Ludington, including Mason County towns or place names Branch, Walhalla, Custer, Scottville, and Ludington. Some that no longer exist include Jordan (near present day location of Great Lakes Energy west of Scottville) and Amber (near present Amber Township hall on Amber Road). 

Ward died suddenly just on Jan. 2, 1875, just one month after the railroad was completed. Ludington died on April 1, 1891 at the age of 63 in his residence at Plankinton House Hotel in Milwaukee.

Ward was succeeded by Jesse Hoyt of New York who had extensive lumber and salt interest in East Saginaw. 

On Dec. 5, 1881, the F&PM completed a 26.53 mile subsidiary route from Walhalla north to Manistee. The villages of Bachelor, Fountain and Free Soil quickly sprang up on this line. Upon its opening the branch gave the F&PM access to Manistee lumbering and salt manufacturing resources.

As early as 1886 the Chicago and West Michigan Railway shared common directors with the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroad, which was reorganized a decade later, in 1896, as the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western Railroad. 

By Jan. 1, 1899, the F&PM had sold 468,690 acres of the 513,000 acres granted the company by the federal government. Sales amounted to $4,847,007 – an average of $10.34 an acres.

An agreement was reached in 1899 for the consolidation of the F&PM with the Chicago and West Michigan and the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western with securities of the newly organized exchanged for those of the constituent companies. The F&PM declared a special 2% dividend out of assets as part of the consolidation plan. The Pere Marquette Railroad was incorporated Nov. 1, 1899, and took over on Jan. 1, 1900.

Charles M. Heald of the C&WM and DGR&W was president of the Pere Marquette with William W. Crapo of the F&PM as chairman of the board of directors. On February 1, 1900, the new company acquired the Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron Railroad, which had been built in 1881-86 by investors associated with the F&PM.

Next week: the first cross-lake boats. 

Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100;

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