By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Sep 09, 2003 at 5:19 AM

{image1}The City of Milwaukee is moving to Manistee, Michigan, this fall. No, Mayor John Norquist has not declared the city is seceding from Wisconsin as one of his last acts.

We're talking about the S.S. City of Milwaukee, the last remaining traditional Great Lakes passenger/train ferry. The steamship has actually been moored in Manistee for several years, but this fall it is going to get a major facelift and be relocated to the Moonlite Motel to give visitors a unique dining experience and accommodations.

"We received a $1.3 million rural development loan to bring it baack to its 1930s colors and condition," said Jed Jaworski, a former Shorewood resident who now serves as curator for a non-profit organization that oversees the boat.

The ship, in conjunction with the motel, will offer family dining, a play area, picnic tables and grills. The shipboard bed and breakfast accommodations will be available for the 2004 tourist season.

SS. City of Milwaukee is the final of six sister ships built to plans developed by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in 1923. The vessel was launched on November 25, 1930. It was built to replace the S.S. Milwaukee, which foundered during a severe storm in 1929 and sunk off the coast of Whitefish Bay.

The twin-screw vessel measures 348 feet in length, 56 beam, 16 draft. It was powered by four scotch fire tube boilers developing 185 working psi. The triple expansion engines were 1,400 horsepower each. This power combined with the 12 foot diameter iron propellers could drive the ship 14 knots and drive it through three feet of solid ice.

SS. City of Milwaukee's freight deck could accommodate an entire freight train (30 boxcars on four tracks). During World War II, the ship ferried war materials across Lake Michigan. Coast Guardsmen and Navy officers also trained on the ship during that time.

The vessel sailed under the Grand Trunk Railroad the majority of its career, but was leased and operated by other railroads around Lake Michigan over the decades. The ship docked in Milwaukee from 1931-'79.

It was purchased by the State of Michigan to operate as an Ann Arbor vessel in 1979. The ship was retired in operable condition in 1981 when the State of Michigan shut down its cross-lake ferry system.

Milwaukeeans helping

Jaworski said great care would be taken to make the revitalized City of Milwaukee as close to the original condition as possible. His group is getting some help from Milwaukeeans.

The city has cooperated in tearing down the original launching area for the ship. Local companies are helping in the de-construction of the dock and will help in the transfer to Manistee.

"We've maintained a lot of ties to Milwaukee," Jaworski said. "We have an annual beer and brat day to recognize the ties." The daughter of Rowland J. Martin, the longtime captain of the SS. City of Milwaukee, was married on the ship.

The steamship is a throwback to the rather romantic days when several such ships crossed the Great Lakes daily, carrying rail cars, cargo and passengers.

Of course, you can still get a flavor of those days by taking the S.S. Badger out of Manitowoc to Ludington, Michigan. Ferries also have run out of Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Kewaunee over the years to Michigan ports in Muskegon, Manistee, Frankfort and other cities over history.

Manistee and the overall western coast of Michigan offer many tourist attractions. This writer enjoys the sand dunes that line the coast the most. Several areas of dunes are well protected in state parks.

If you want lower key historic and nature attractions, head north from Ludington. If you want higher profiles activities, head south to the Muskegon and Holland areas or west to Grand Rapids.

One warning if you go south ... Chicagoans have discovered the so-called Gold Coast of Michigan. You will run into a lot of traffic.

But, the ferry gets you there in four hours. The SS. City of Milwaukee should add an attraction to the area. If you want to learn more about Lake Michigan steamships and ferries, you can become a member of the group renovating the ship by going to

Gregg Hoffmann writes monthly Beyond Milwaukee columns about interesting events, out-of-the-way places, historic sites and quirky characters in "out-state" Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.