Port of Call

New maritime museum highlights Ludington’s historic harbor and Lake Michigan ties. // Photography by Kendra Stanley-Mills
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The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum

A tribute to the city’s rich maritime history, which at one time included nine car ferries, the new Port of Ludington Maritime Museum features authentic and interactive exhibits for all ages in the former U.S. Coast Guard Station. The historic, craftsman-style building on the channel, a landmark itself, opened in 1934 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We were the natural choice to preserve this bit of our history,” said Rick Plummer, executive director of Mason County Historical Society, which operates the museum. “Ludington has a rich and storied maritime history, and this museum is dedicated to telling that story.”

Port Ludington Maritime Museum - Artifacts
Exhibits and artifacts are making their way into place, like the Fresnel lens shown below from Little Sable Point Lighthouse.

Greeted by a holographic image of Nels Palmer, a famed Coast Guard captain, visitors move into an open exhibit space featuring a replica lighthouse children can climb, a Fresnel lens from Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and wooden canoes and boats built in Ludington. The museum delivers a high-tech and hands-on experience, with state-of-the-art exhibits, including a re-creation of the Pere Marquette 22 ferry deck, Captain Andy Van Dyke’s quarters and the pilothouse. Guests can pick a scenario and man the wheel, piloting the ferry into Ludington’s harbor or across Lake Michigan at night as it is simulated on multiple screens.

Besides original artifacts from the Coast Guard, car ferries and other maritime history, the museum features a 30-seat theater and three floors of exhibits. Displays include 200 model lighthouses from across the country and Michigan, replica ships built by a World War II Navy veteran, and an exhibit on Lake Michigan shipwrecks.

Rick Plummer
Rick Plummer

There also is a room devoted to The Armistice Day Storm of 1940 and the SS Badger, a National Historic Landmark providing cross-lake service since 1953. From third-floor windows in the Badger Room, visitors can look down the channel and see the nation’s only coal-fired car ferry as she sits in port.

Another large space on the third floor, and the station’s former sleeping quarters, features work by local folk artist Jacob Lunde and his 120-foot-long panorama scroll depicting Ludington’s lumbering and maritime history.

Port Ludington Maritime Museum

The museum opened in June and was a community effort, designed to capture the region’s car ferry, shipping, lifesaving and shipwreck history and anchor Ludington as a year-round tourist destination. The $5.2-million project was 10 years in the making and involved philanthropic support from local residents, businesses and agencies, along with a $630,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation.


Port of Ludington Maritime Museum
217 S. Lakeshore Drive, Ludington
Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
231-843-4808; ludingtonmaritimemuseum.org

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