SS John Sherman

The SS John Sherman was a United States sidewheeler ship of the 1870s used for ferry service across Lake Michigan. She went between the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The ship was the first of the commercial ferries used by the Pere Marquette Railroad for transporting freight and passengers. She preceded additional ferries that ultimately became a fleet of ferries for the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. It led to the development of the largest train ferry service in the world.


The Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad received a land grant in 1857 from the United States government to construct a railroad westwards from Flint, Michigan to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. As early as 1859, a railroad ferry service across Lake Michigan was considered as a shorter route to Wisconsin rather than going all the way around the south end of Lake Michigan. The western terminus of the new railroad could have been in either Oceana County or Mason County, Michigan. Through the influence of James Ludington (founder of the village of Pere Marquette) the western terminus of the railroad was determined to be at Mason County where the village of Pere Marquette was located. The railroad received its "Pere Marquette" portion of its name from the village in northwestern Michigan.[1] The village was renamed "Ludington" in 1873. The railroad was completed on December 18, 1874.[2]

A privately owned side-wheel steamboat, John Sherman had already started a ferry service across Lake Michigan in 1873.[3][4][5] The railroad company hired the cross-lake ferry service from Ludington to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on June 25, 1874. They then initiated a public commercial package freight service across Lake Michigan on May 31, 1875.[2] The vessel was a 175 feet long.[6] It shuttled packaged freight, grain, and people across Lake Michigan between Ludington and Sheboygan, Wisconsin.[7] The ship commander was Captain John W. Steward.[8]

The vessel was a break-bulk transporter. That meant that the freight was unloaded from the rail car and loaded onto the ship by hand, rather by packages or by bulk into large ship containers. The freight material was then transported across Lake Michigan. At the other end the freight was unloaded by hand and reloaded into other freight cars at the port the vessel arrived at.[9] All the cross-lake ferries until 1896 were of this type.[10]

After the one season in 1875 the vessel was found to be too small for the volume of freight on the route and was discontinued.[1] The craft was then rebuilt in 1877 as a passenger steamer operating out of Detroit. In 1879 she was made into a barge and served that purpose until 1893. Her engines first went to Alaska and then later to Frank E. Kirby. [11]

In 1882, the F&PM railroad company had built two wooden freighters to replace John Sherman. They were numbered #1 and #2 and shuttled packaged freight, bulk grain, and passengers between Ludington and Milwaukee.[12] Other vessels were added to the fleet as the years went on and were given the next highest number sequentially as they were added.[13] The railroad company fleet of steamers started carrying complete train freight cars in 1896 and became Pere Marquette Railroad's train ferry fleet—largest in the world by 1905.[14][15][16] This ultimately became the Chesapeake and Ohio's Lake Michigan fleet, the world's largest and fastest lake carferries.[17][18]


  1. Hilton 2003, p. 93.
  2. Daily News 1997, p. 6.
  3. GLHS 1949, p. 116.
  4. Barton, Thomas W. (August 2, 1998). "Lake Michigan Ferry Service Through The Years". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  5. Hawley, Thom (March 28, 1997). "Lake Michigan Car Ferry History". Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  6. BLFEM 1941, p. 508.
  7. MacLaren, Agnes (February 19, 1952). "First Steel Car Ferry Made Maiden Voyage 55 Years Ago Today". The Ludington Daily News. p. 1 via .
  8. "Detailed History of the Railroad on the Water". Daily News. Ludington, Michigan. March 15, 1934. pp. 1, 7 via .
  9. Frederickson 1955, p. 10.
  10. "New Carferry Recalls Fleet's Humble Start". Escanaba Daily Press. Ludington, Michigan. March 12, 1941. p. 7 via . A single ship—a slow privately owned single wheel steamer, the John Sherman, initiated the service in 1875, carrying package freight. Though she functioned for only one brief summer, pending completion of more adequate arrangements, she nevertheless started this trans-lake service, becoming, nominally at least, the mother ship of package freighters and carferries of succeeding Pere Marquette fleets.
  11. Frederickson 1955, p. 4.
  12. Keefe 1998, p. 282.
  13. Peterson, Paul S. (March 18, 1997). "Numbering of carferries is down to a science". Ludington Daily News / Steam & Steel Section B. Ludington, Michigan. p. 5.
  14. "Luxurious Carferry Recalls Fleet's Humble Start". The News-Palladium-page 12. Benton Harbor, Michigan. March 12, 1941 via .
  15. "Today Marks 60th Anniversary of Sailing of Pere Marquette 15". Ludington Daily News – page 1. Ludington, Michigan. February 19, 1957.
  16. "Tribute to 'The Father of the Fleet' (part 1)". Daily News. Ludington, Michigan. September 14, 1940 via . -even then the largest carferry fleet in the world-
  17. "C & O Lake Michigan Fleet was Inaugurated in 1875; Two Ships added today". Ludington Daily News-page 3. Ludington, Michigan. September 6, 1952 via . From puffing sidewheelers to the biggest, fastest lake carferries in the world—that's the story of the Chesapeake and Ohio's Lake Michigan fleet. ... A single ship—a slow, privately owned side-wheel steamer, John Sherman--initiated the service in 1875, carrying package freight.
  18. MarineNews 1953, p. 32.


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