Mackinaw City in Cheboygan County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Mackinaw City Historical Pathway
Railroad construction across America boomed in the second half of the 1800s, spurred on by technological improvements and demand for distant products. Getting rail cars across the Straits required special boats.
Railroads were completed on both sides of the Straits of Mackinac in 1881. The railroad companies were picking up the products of the northern states such as western wheat and Michigan iron ore. A ferry boat system had to be implemented to cross the 5-mile wide Straits of Mackinac. Railroad cars were shuttled back and forth by boat while the heavy locomotives remained on land.
The Algomah was the first ship the railroad built. It operated until 1888 and was replaced by the St. Ignace. In 1893, the Sainte Marie began crossings as well. The Algomah, St. Ignace and Ste. Marie were all wooden-hulled icebreakers and proved unable to withstand the strain of heavy ice at the Straits.
In 1911 the steel-hulled Chief Wawatam started service. At the time, it was the most advanced icebreaker in the world. The "Chief" and the second Sainte Marie worked as sister
The End of the railroad ferries
Ferry use dropped dramatically in 1957 with the opening of the Mackinac Bridge. In 1984 the railroad dock in St. Ignace collapsed and the Chief Wawatam stopped running. In 1988 she was sold and converted to a barge that worked until the barge was scrapped in 2009.
Chief Wawatam's Design
For ice breaking, the Chief Wawatam had a bow propeller that sucked the water from under the ice to weaken it. Her hull was cut away at both the bow and stern so she could ride up on the ice and crush it with her weight, ideas later incorporated in the Icebreaker Mackinaw.
She also was designed for fast loading and unloadings with railroad tracks that aligned with the dock. She has a sea gate that lifted out of the way so she could be loaded from the bow.
Location. 45° 46.876′ N, 84° 43.5′ W. Marker is in Mackinaw City, Michigan, in Cheboygan County. Marker is on North Huron Avenue, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is on the north edge of Conkling Heritage Park's marina green at the southeast corner of the intersection of East Central Avenue, Langlade Street, North Huron Avenue, and South Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Iron Horse (here, next to this marker); Mackinaw City (a few steps from this marker); The Algomah (within shouting distance of this marker); Mackinaw's Civil War Cannons (within shouting distance of this marker); The Dixie Highway (within shouting distance of this marker); Mackinaw, Mackinac or Michilimackinac? (within shouting distance of this marker); Historic Mackinaw City (within shouting distance of this marker); Mackinaw City Railroad Dock / USCG Cutter Mackinaw WAGB 83 (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Mackinaw City.
Also see . . . SS Chief Wawatam. Wikipedia article (Submitted on July 22, 2017, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan.)
Categories. • Roads & Vehicles • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on July 22, 2017. This page originally submitted on July 22, 2017, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan. This page has been viewed 184 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on July 22, 2017, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan.