Friday, February 13, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Part V

Charles Hanson's freight boat Marion also served as one of the
early Island ferries.  Photo probably taken around 1919-20.  

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Previous posts in this series on the changing Island waterfront referenced the early days of ferry operation and Captain William Jepson.  Jepson wasn't the only ferry operator, but his operation succeeded in outlasting his competition by providing regularly scheduled service, and, it may be,
by employing a better vessel with superior docking facilities/location.

Once established, Jepson called his ferry operation "The Gills Rock Ferry Line," an attempt to closely associate his service with the peninsula port from which his ferries departed.  Earlier, Ellison Bay and Garrett Bay (across the harbor from Gills Rock) were two other points of departure for early ferry runs.
The facility at Gills Rock (the Voight/Johnson dock, where ferries continued to land for many years afterward) although exposed in W to N winds, was superior to Garret Bay, and to the more distant Ellison Bay.   (Northport was developed later as an alternative to Gills Rock, at times when winds prevented landing there.)

Jepson ferry schedule (year unknown)

Information from old newspapers show that the first efforts were wishful thinking with a fair amount of public support, but without resulting in an actual ferry service.  Columnists promoted  the need for a regular ferry service, repeatedly making the case on behalf of island and mainland citizens.

From the Door County News (DCN) 24 Nov. 1915, it was reported that "The value of such a ferry boat to the people of the island and also to all others concerned would be unestimable, and would work toward the rapid advancement of that place."  Just who the originator of the idea might have been was kept under wraps, described only as "…a gentleman from outside…", a businessman of mystery.    The broad backing needed to start such an enterprise was repeatedly solicited, along with the convincing arguments such improvements would bring, linking the island with the rest of Door County.

The 12 July 1916 The DCN reported efforts that had yet to get off the ground.

The people of Washington Island have been talking ferry so long that now action is going to be taken to see what can be done with the project…a meeting will be called for the purpose of launching a movement.  The people of the island are interested in anything that will bring the island closer to the mainland and their people nearer to the people on the peninsula...  The project has passed the stage when anyone can check it by throwing cold water on it.  The people want a ferry and are ready to listen to any plan that is feasible and not too expensive.

But plan specifics were still lacking, other than that such a ferry must serve the needs of islanders, "…must operate at least during the months of June, July and August and September, and longer if practical;  that some arrangement be made with the local mail carrier to have the mail [transported] in connection with the ferry if possible."  The ferry must transport autos, horses, cattle, etc., and the toll must be "reasonable."

As of July 1916, the newspaper's efforts remained of a cheerleading nature.  No firm commitment to offer such service had as yet surfaced.  The Wednesday, 16 August 1916 issue of The DCN reported that a new association was being formed "for the purpose of promoting or urging the building of a ferry across the Door."  About 170 islanders were reported to have attended at Tom Nelson's hall "together with tourists and people from different townships of the peninsula."

Man at left holding one end of the fish stringer is Judge Herbert,
according to label on reverse.  One or more Herschberger
family members who had a home in Jensenville are
believed to surround him at the Gislason (shipyard)
 dock.   No information is available on the
Caroline moored at left.
(Photo is from the Bell Collection, and Bill Jepson
is believed to have been
the photographer.  (Year unknown)

"Judge Herbert was the principal speaker of the evening and in a very able manner addressed the audience, first calling attention to the remarkable growth of industries on the island through their own work."   Judge Herbert cited the telephone exchange and the difficulties overcome in establishing the island-wide phone service, and the island "creamery" for its prosperity.

The newspaper reported: "At the conclusion of his talk the bell rang with hearty applause and there was no question but what Judge Herbert had sensed the voice of the islanders on the subject.  Other men were called on for remarks, among them Attorney Wagener, A. A. Minor and Frank Graass.  Local men also raised their voice.  George Mann, it was reported, "…hit the nail on the head when he said, 'We want it to come,' and Lawrence Gislason was willing to do anything, 'To see that it gets here'."

A new committee was named "The Island Ferry Company"at Bo L. Anderson's suggestion.  Names for committee leadership were nominated and voted on, with a band playing during deliberations.  The following men were elected:  Will Jess, president;  Geo. O. Mann, vice-president; Lawrence Gislason, treasurer;  Earl M. LaPlant, secretary.   Mr. Laplant appears to have been the only non-islander to join the committee's officers.  With optimism, another meeting was announced two weeks hence, with the expectation that in the meantime they would get a membership of five hundred people, each paying dues of $1.00 per year.

Under the column heading "From HERE AND THERE" in the 29 Nov. 1916 DCN came this report:
   "The ferry project went a step forward when the county board saw the necessity of aiding the movement by a donation of $500."
Bo L. Anderson had made a pitch before the County Board, followed by a successful resolution.  Part of Anderson's reasoning was for the County to find some way to connect the peninsula's northernmost road with the "county highway on the island."  A suggestion was also made - the news story wasn't clear by whom - that ferry rates be set at $2.00 for autos and $0.50 for passengers.

[An unrelated but interesting aside in the same column was another newsworthy item from Washington Island:    "Measles are still in evidence.  Likewise, the itch which is as bad if not worse."]

By the time the 17 Feb.1917 Door County News was published, the County Board's action regarding the earmarked funds to help a fledgling island ferry service was called into question.  An opinion of District Attorney W. E. Gaede stated the county board's action had appropriated the $500  "...beyond its powers and consequently is illegal and void."    But following this announcement, another route was suggested by then assemblyman Frank N. Graass, who offered to introduce a bill that would legalize the action of the county board.  His bill later passed the Wisconsin Assembly and was signed by the Governor.  But these efforts did not immediately, or directly, bring about ferry service.

In November of that same year (DCN 22 Nov. 1917) a headline read:  "People of Washington Island Still Hopeful of Securing Service.  May Be Established Next Spring."   The ferry project was
"…dormant, but not dead by any means."

Meanwhile, it was reported that in Ellison Bay a Mrs. Andrew Nelson offered "the required timber and stone from her holdings…for the construction of a suitable pier for the boats to land, providing it is built at her place.  There are a number of boats owned on the island that could be utilized for the service and the people of Washington Island are confident that the enterprise would be a profitable one."

On 17 Dec. 1917, the DCN reported that the Weborgs of Gills Rock had offered their dock, "for the upkeep," should a ferry service there be established.

It wasn't until the 21 March 1918 issue of The DCN that names of possible ferry operators were first mentioned.  The start of ferry service, it appeared, would be dependent upon entrepreneurs.

There is every indication that the ferry line across the Door to Washington Island will be inaugurated the try first thing this spring.

The gasoline boat Wisconsin has been secured to do the work and Capt. Carl Christianson and Wm Jepsen (sp) who own the craft will handle her in the business.  The promoters consider themselves fortunate in having secured the Wisconsin, she being one of the best boats of her kind on Green Bay.  She is staunch, safe and speedy and capable of carrying 3 autoes (sic) as well as passengers and freight.  She is 59 feet long, 15 feet wide and 7 feet depth of hold and is equipped with a 40 h.p. engine.  She is only a couple of years old, having been built in 1916 in Green Bay.

The landing at the island will be at the Lawrence Gislason dock and it is planned to have the place of landing on the mainland at Garrett Bay.  This part has not been definitely settled upon, however, but it is not anticipated that there will be much trouble in securing a suitable place.  [Garrett Bay had a deep water pier used for loading stone onto ships.]

The owners of the Wisconsin have agreed to take their chances on the amount of business that they will do, feeling confident that there will be plenty of travel during the summer months.  They are both excellent seamen and hustlers from the word go, so that it will be no fault of their's if they do not make a success of the undertaking.

The ferry will be a great drawing card for tourists desiring to make the rounds of the county and should be the means of bringing much trade to hotels on the island.   It is planned to make the fare nominal for the round trip, so that there will be no objection on this score.

The 22 MAY 1919 DCN reported:

Capt. Carl Hanson, owner and master of the gasoline freighter Marion, was in the city the latter part of the week, at which time a reporter asked him concerning the proposed ferry line across the Door to Washington Island.  

Capt. Hanson says that he plans on starting along about June 1st to 10th.  He will make a round trip in the morning and one in the afternoon, and will have time to make a special trip should it be found necessary and desirable.  The schedule he has laid out is to leave Detroit Harbor at 7:30 a.m. and arrive at Garrett Bay at 8:10; leave again at 9 and arrive at Detroit harbor at 9:40.  In the afternoon he will leave Detroit Harbor at 2:15, arriving at Garrett Bay at 2:55; leave again at 4 and arrive at Detroit Harbor at 4:40.

The fare for the round trip will be $5 for an ordinary car and driver, or $3 for one way;  large cars will be charged $7, or $4 for one way.  Passengers will be charged $1 for the round trip.

An ad for the Marion's service appeared in the July 10 DCN, but the mainland location listed was Ellison Bay (beyond Door Bluff and several miles south of Garret Bay).  A paragraph that accompanied the ad stated:

The Washington Island ferry line is now operating on scheduled time between Ellison Bay and Detroit Harbor.  In another column will be found the time table and rates.  The line promises to become a popular mode of travel when brought to the attention of the outside world.  There has been a demand for transporting autos across the Door passage and the ferry Marion is fitting the long felt want.

But Hanson's ferry service, it appears, actually began July 1st, from Gills Rock to the island, as reported in the 20 June 1918 DCN.  The name "Carl" Hanson had been changed to "Hans" Hanson.  (I believe "Carl" was also referred to as "Charles" Hanson.)

 It was noted that:

"The auxiliary schooner Marion, owned and commanded by Capt. Hans Hanson, will be utilized as the ferry.  She is a staunch craft and in charge of an able and experienced seaman.  She is equipped with a 25 h.p. engine and will make the run across the Door in about an hour.  The transportation of autoes from Washington Island to the mainland will be of great convenience to the owners of cars, as it will make it possible for them to leave the island in the morning, come to this city and return home the same evening after transacting business."

Schedule and rates for Hanson ferry Marion,
as it appeared in the 10 July 1919 DCNews.

The fits and starts that seemed to accompany the first island ferry service(s), are confusing to piece together.  They're made even more confusing because of what appears to be mix-ups as reported in the newspaper.

The 26 June 1919 DCN carried the following story, giving the ferry operator's name as William Jepson, but the ferry name Marion, rather than Wisconsin.  Jepson's peninsula location at Gills Rock, which was developed on the eastern shore (where the highway in Gills Rock ends today) would prove considerably shorter and faster than the proposed ferry run of Hanson's to Ellison Bay.  

FERRY STARTS - The first trip of the Washington Island ferry was made on Thursday, June 19th.  This was when the gasoline carrier Marion, Capt. Jepsen (sic) carried the first automobile across the Door to Washington Island from the mainland.

A dock is being built at Gills Rock for the ferry to discharge the autoes (sic) conveniently and expeditiously and the work will be competed by the end of the week.

On the patronage of the public depends the success of the undertaking.  It is confidently anticipated by promoters that it will be a paying proposition as soon as the fact becomes generally known that trips can be made back and forth.  The large increase in the number of autoes during the past and first of the present season augurs well for the ferry line.  The fare is reasonable and service of the best.

Jepson's Wisconsin, on the ways.  Sheets of metal
fastened to the wooden hull to give greater durability.
(Believed to be a Wm. Jepson photo,  from the Bell Collection.)

Finally, we add in one more name of an early ferry operator and his DCN.  The new aspirations were Pete Anderson's, who held the mail contract between the island and the mainland post office in Ellison Bay, which he fulfilled in non-ice months with his vessel named Volunteer.
Passengers aboard the ferry Wisconsin, during teens or early 1920s.
Photo likely taken by Wm. Jepson (from Bell Collection).

FERRY TO WASHINGTON ISLAND - Pete Anderson, the Mail Carrier, Will Carry Cars Across the Door In His New Boat.

Washington Island is to have a ferry service again during the coming summer for the accommodation of the inhabitants of that part of the county as well as the tourists trade.

Pete Anderson, the hustling mail carrier, is the man behind the proposition and he will combine it with his regular business of handling Uncle Sam's mail and carrying passengers back and forth.

During the past winter Pete purchased the gasoline yacht Navarre which formerly belonged to Judge Turner, now deceased, and during the past couple of weeks, he with Thos. Johnson and George Jorgenson have been busily engaged at Two Rivers in converting the craft into a business boat.  She was thoroughly overhauled below the water line and is now as good as new.  

On Monday, Mr. Anderson, accompanied by Messrs. Johnson and Jorgenson, arrived in the city with the boat on their way to Washington Island, stopping only long enough at the yards of the Fuller Goodman company on the west side to take on a load of material with which to finish the craft.  It is the intention to put in exceptionally heavy beams and decks for carrying automobiles.   The upper works and decks will be put in at Detroit Harbor during the ensuing month, it being the intention to have her ready for commission along about the first of June.

The Navarre is 56 feet long and 15 feet wide and will be capable of carrying three cars handily.  She is an exceptionally fine boat.  The owner will also have accommodations for passengers as well.

Mr Anderson has not as yet figured out just what schedule he will run on, but this will be announced at a later date.

There are a large number of autoes owned on the Island, which together with those of people who wish to visit the place should provide a good business for the ferry.

Mail carrier Pete Anderson's Volunteer (nearest shore) and the vessel
he purchased and converted in order to start up a ferry service, Navarre.

This is all the information I currently have on the very first motorized ferries (and all or nearly all of it comes from The Door County News clippings provided me by Eric Greenfeldt) but it is my assessment that these three ferry operations struggled in these first few years. Not only did they compete for customers, but the operators battled against weather elements using piers that were, given their haste to get started, probably somewhat make-shift and exposed.  Of the three announced operators, Jepson appeared to have developed superior landings at the best locations.  With his vessel Wisconsin he seemed to have the best craft, and the combination of boat and landings provided a consistent service.   Successful ferry operations and increasing traffic over the next few years led to Jepson's ferry Welcome, built in 1929 Sturgeon Bay, the first vessel built specifically for island ferry service.  His Wisconsin was then sold to Chris Andersen, who used it as a freight boat.

-  Dick Purinton

1 comment:

Bill Tobey said...

I really enjoy these accounts, Dick, and thank you for preparing and posting them!