Ferries are the lifeline for the island transporting vehicles, passengers and freight. Before the ferries, access to the island was by steamers that transited the great lakes or by private boats. Over the years there have been at least 19 different ferries running from Charlevoix to Beaver Island.
The first real ferry was the Nellie in 1890. Like most of the early ferries, she was steam powered and had a wooden hull. In 1896 the Nellie was replaced by the Erie l. Hackley (79×17.4×5.2, 90 g. Tons) which was owned by Capt. P. D. (Pete) Campbell. She ran three trips a week to the island and on the other days was used to make runs to other ports in pine lake (later renamed Lake Charlevoix) as well as Little Traverse Bay and Cross Village. Then in 1900 the Hackley was replaced by the Joe and in 1902, The Beaver was brought in to take over the run to the island. (98x19x9, 121 g. Tons). She was also skippered by Capt. Campbell, who also owned a boat shop in Charlevoix. The Beaver caught fire and burned at the dock while moored in Charlevoix. This was a common fate of wooden hulled vessels that used wood or coal for fuel. The Beaver was later raised and converted to a barge.
In 1915 The City of Boyne (87.8×19.7, 45 hp) was used as the ferry. She had previously been used to haul freight to various ports in Lake Charlevoix. She only was used one year when in 1916 the Columbia started to run to Beaver Island. She also caught fire and sank at the dock in Charlevoix. Her fire also spread to the Charlevoix Coal and Wood Company.
In 1917 the Bruce (78.7×19.9×8.5, 225 hp) ran as well as the Irene, but the Irene was little competition. All of the vessels mentioned so far, only carried passengers and freight. In 1920, the Sanford (100 feet long) was the first car ferr, carrying one car. There was just enough room on the stern to fit the car. In 1931 the Bedell was purchased by James H. Gallagher of Boyne City to carry the mail from Charlevoix to Beaver Island. It bears mentioning that all of the ferries were used to carry the U.S. mail and were many times referred to as the “mail boat”. The Bedell went to the world’s fair in Chicago in 1933. The Rambler ran for a short period in 1933 and then the Sanford again.
In 1934 the Bainbridge operated a charter to Beaver Island. She was originally built for coast wise trade in east Boothbay, Maine. (Coincidentally, the city where the new emerald isle was built.) The Bainbridge was eventually sold, renamed the Algomah II and ran to Mackinac Island. In 1935, the Marold II started the run to Beaver Island. She was built for Alexander Winton, who manufactured The Winton Auto. Marold II was steel hulled (145×19.1) and was originally built as a fast yacht. She caught fire at the dock in Marysville and sank. Four years later she was raised and converted to a passenger/freight vessel by the Beaver Island Navigation Co. One of her engines was removed to be used as a spare and the other was placed amidships. She was the first real ferry for the islanders. On Nov 11, 1935 the Boyd was driven onto Simmons reef and abandoned. She was loaded with gasoline and the islanders used the Marold II to take the gasoline off the Boyd. On Jan 1, 1936 she exploded with no survivors. They believe that a match struck to ignite the engine cause the explosion. In 1936 the Mary Margaret (64’ steel hull) took over the run to the island and then in 1946 the North Shore (64’ wood hull) ran as well.
The first ferry actually built for the Charlevoix to Beaver Island run was the Emerald Isle in 1955 (65’ long, carried 9 cars & 125 passengers). She was built by the Cristie Shipbuilding Co. for the Beaver Island Boat Company. She is currently operating as a tour boat in Detroit (the diamond jack). In 1962, BIBCo. had the Beaver Islander built by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding Co. The Beaver Islander carries 10 vehicles, 172 passengers and 40 tons of freight at 13.5 kts. In 1971, BIBCo also purchased the South Shore which carried 5 vehicles, 120 passengers and 25 tons of freight at 8.5 kts. A new ferry, the Emerald Isle was built in 1997 and is by far the largest and most modern of the ferries to ever run to Beaver Island. She will carry 294 passengers, 100 tons of freight, over 15 vehicles (up to and including a semi-truck) at 14.25 kts. It loads from the stern as well as the side.