Miller Ferry Schedule
Savvy Traveler Tip!
Be sure to reserve your Put-in-Bay Golf Cart Rentals Here online before arriving, as we are frequently sold out!
Directions To The Miller Ferry
History Of The Miller Ferry
Early Days Circa 1905
At the start of the 20th century, Put-in-Bay, situated in the heart of the “Wine Islands” of Lake Erie, was teeming with vineyards, orchards, and numerous wineries. During the summer, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to Put-in-Bay via steamships. These magnificent steamers were approximately 400 feet long and far more prominent than the island ferries of today.
Additionally, Put-in-Bay was home to one of the biggest resort hotels in the Midwest at that time, the Hotel Victory, along with several other grand wooden hotels, a trolley, a colossal water toboggan, two schoolhouses (one for the children of East Point), taverns, restaurants, and an opera house.
Miller Ferry Livery
At the dawn of the 20th century, Put-in-Bay was home to a local ice business initiated by two residents – William M. Miller and Harry Jones. During winter, the crew would cut and gather around 1000 tons of block ice, which was hazardous. However, the location was ideal, as the ice was extracted from the Put-in-Bay harbor just yards away from the shore.
The ice was stored in an ice house insulated with sawdust. During the summer months, Miller would sell the valuable ice to sailors on their yachts anchored in the bay and to hotels and restaurants on the island. The aptly named “Iceman,” Miller’s 18-foot wooden delivery boat, was used for transporting the ice.
The Bass Islands, aptly named for their abundance of perch, pickerel, and bass, have long been a favorite destination for fishermen. William M. Miller, a Put-in-Bay resident, recognized the potential of this industry and expanded his local ice business to include six charter boats led by the 50-foot Avon. Judy Borman Prinz and John Borman, who grew up on Put-in-Bay, remember joining their father on fishing trips with Miller’s boats.
When the fishing was slow, the group might take a side trip to Lonz Winery on Middle Bass Island, where the men could sample George Lonz’s finest while the children explored the castle-like winery and collected champagne corks with glee.
In addition to charter boats, Miller also operated local water taxis, which were especially popular during Regatta week. The sound of “Millllllll-eeeerrrrrr!” could be heard along the bay as people hailed his water taxis for a pickup.
Lee & Mary Miller Era
William M. Miller’s son, William Lee, was also involved in the family business, skippering the Avon between the Bass Islands and Catawba Point. The vessel was attached to a scow to function as a ferry, which could transport around eight cars at a time.
One of Miller’s scows was the scuttled deck of the old Erie Isle, which had been acquired from the Put-in-Bay Auto Ferry Company. This scow was used to transport cars, freight, livestock, passengers, and barrels of gasoline and other fuels to keep the Miller Boat Livery running.
Lee was responsible for the year-round mail service between the Bass Islands and the mainland, as regular Bass Island air service did not begin until 1929. Delivering mail and passengers during the months of open water was challenging enough, but during the harsh Lake Erie winters, Lee and his crew faced an even greater delivery obligation.
They had to haul, push, and float “ironclads” filled with mail and passengers between the icy stretch of Catawba Dock and the Lime Kiln Dock of Put-in-Bay. These wooden boats were outfitted with metal sheathing and nailed on “with about a million nails,” according to Bill Market.
This was necessary to withstand the jagged ice, and the boat and crew had to be ready to float across open water or drop through weak ice areas. Paying passengers often had to help shove and maneuver the boats across the ice, which was a common occurrence.
Miller Ferry The Route To The Bass Islands
In the mid-1940s, William M. Miller, known as “Pop,” his son Lee, Lee’s wife Mary, and Put-in-Bay resident “Mick” Arndt purchased Catawba Dock Company stock from several Catawba residents. By 1945, Lee had taken over the Livery from his father and recognized the need for a more efficient and safer ferry system.
Stadium Boat, Works of Cleveland, built the all-steel auto/passenger ferry South Shore to address this need in 1945. The 65-foot enclosed vessel could carry up to 12 cars, run earlier in the spring and later in the fall, and had a hull designed to handle Lake Erie’s rough waters. The ferry trip between Miller’s downtown dock and Catawba Dock took approximately 40 minutes, with three round trips made each day. Trips to Middle Bass Island were by appointment in 1946.
Additional side-load ferries were added in the following years, including the 65-foot West Shore in 1947 and the 65-foot William M Miller in 1954, both constructed in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. In 1959, the 64-foot Put-in-Bay was built, with the ability to carry up to twelve cars and unlimited overhead clearance, making it ideal for larger vehicles and mobile homes.
Passengers entrusted their vehicles to the experienced crewmen, who drove them on and off the ferry. On occasion, cars were parked so closely together on the deck that the crewman had to crawl through the vehicle’s window to access it. Once passengers and vehicles were safely on board, the heavy wooden planks were hauled off the deck with a rumble, and the ferry was off “to the other side.”
Miller Boat Line had become the primary water connection between Catawba and the Bass Islands. Although the ice business continued into the 1950s, instead of harvesting ice from the harbor, ice was purchased on the mainland, loaded onto Model A trucks, and ferried to the islands.
Bill, also known as “Mucker,” took over as captain of the Wm. M. Miller when she arrived on the island, following in his father’s footsteps. In addition to his duties on the Miller ferry, Bill also skippered the Mervine II, a navy LCM used for fuel delivery to the islands during World War II.
Today, the Mervine II is docked at the downtown Miller Ferry Dock under the name Cantankerous. The Miller fleet at that time still included five fishing boats and two 26-foot Lymans, which were used for quick transportation, including medical emergencies.
In 1959, the Miller family and the island community were devastated by the accidental drowning of 28-year-old Bill. His loss was a tragedy for all who knew and loved him, as he was a popular and outgoing young man.
The Miller Boat Line Modern History
In 1966, Miller Boat Livery was incorporated and renamed Miller Boat Line. The company expanded its facilities by constructing a break wall and a steel and concrete dock at Miller’s Lime Kiln Dock, located on the southeast tip of Put-in-Bay. By redirecting the main Miller ferry route to Lime Kiln, Lee Miller established the most efficient and shortest ferry route to the island.
This three-mile-long route could be completed in less than twenty minutes. By 1972, the Miller Ferry schedule called for making twelve daily trips between the mainland and Put-in-Bay (South Bass). Additionally, scheduled trips were added for Middle Bass Island, which was serviced by the West Shore ferry.