Preserving Island Business History: Arnold Transit Company

George T. Arnold

George T. Arnold

For 138 years, the Arnold Transit Line ferried passengers to and from Mackinac Island. The company started out as the Mackinac Lumber Company. Founded by George T. Arnold and two business partners in 1878, it later became the Arnold and Coats Ferry Line. In 1890, Arnold bought out his competitors and incorporated the company. Thus, the Arnold Transit Line was born! Its fleet was a common sight near Mackinac Island into November 2016 when its assets were sold to Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry.

But the story of the Arnold Transit Company does not end with cessation of its passenger operations. When the company closed, the Mackinac State Historic Parks gained over a century’s worth of material relating to the Arnold Transit Company. The magnitude of this windfall cannot be understated. Over 200 archival boxes will have to be purchased just to store Arnold Line correspondence.



In addition to letters, MSHP also gained hundreds of ledgers and books. These records range from the late 1870s to the modern day, and give us a peek into the day to day operations of the Arnold Line. For instance, hundreds of journals record the weather, ship arrivals and departures, as well as when and how Mackinac Island’s mail arrived. The journals also give us hints about their writers and what they deemed important as photographs, pamphlets about music, and advertisements can be found squirreled away in most of them.

Wheelchair 2MSHP also received some more unusual Arnold Line items into its collection. Included in the collection are a wheelchair and a locked desk. A wheelchair may seem like an odd thing for a transit company to have, but it was likely used to take customers who were unable to make the trek along the docks. Although old, the wooden wheelchair is still in great shape and rolls like it did back when it was still in use.

Another item of interest is a tall, locked desk. Along with other small items such as stamps and writing Mystery Desk 1utensils, the Arnold collection also contained quite a few keys. However, none of them fit the lock on the desk! Furthermore, it looks as if someone may have tried to pick the lock in the past, but did not succeed. What, if anything, could be in the desk? Given that we at MSHP are not in the habit of damaging objects in our collection, the world may never know.

Although it may have closed its doors, the Arnold Transit Company and its long history of service to Mackinac Island will not be forgotten. There is little doubt that the varied Arnold collection will be of interest to researchers, Mackinac Island visitors, and Mackinac Island residents for many years to come.


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