S.S. Badger sets sail as National Historic Landmark
The S.S. Badger arrives at Manitowoc for the first time as a National Historical Landmark Sail today on Thursday, May 12.
The S.S. Badger's whistle blew as it always does when arriving in Manitowoc.
The American flag atop the car ferry continued to flap in the Lake Michigan wind.
Passengers waved to residents watching the vessel dock, as they always do.
But one thing was different during Thursday's maiden voyage of the 2016 sailing season. The Badger was traveling from Ludington, Michigan, for the first time as a National Historic Landmark.
"National Historic Landmark status is not given to just any old property," said Jim Draeger, state historic preservation officer. "It's a very, very difficult designation to acquire because it means that's the creme de la creme of historic properties across the nation."
The Badger, which was awarded the designation in February, joins the ranks of places such as the White House in Washington, D.C., Empire State Building in New York City and Hoover Dam in Nevada and Arizona.
The National Historic Landmark program began in 1935 and is administered by the National Parks Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. Landmarks can range from buildings to objects to city districts.
"(Landmark status) only goes to a select number of historic properties that have exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States," said Robert Bryson of the National Parks Service. "(The Badger) now has that same stature as those places you think of as being national icons. And indeed it is a national icon."
About 50 other National Historic Landmarks are designated in Wisconsin including the state capitol and Silver Mound Archaeological District. The only other vessel in the state with equal status is the U.S.S. Cobia submarine, also located in Manitowoc.
"Maritime is the heart and soul of this city and has been since its founding, really," Draeger said. "Maritime history has always been part of what defines us as a people in Wisconsin. The S.S. Badger symbolizes the peak of maritime development ... with its innovative design, almost unique propulsion system, the fact that it served a really important historical function.
"Historic properties don't preserve themselves," Draeger added. "We keep them because they are useful and because they have compelling stories that connect us to the past in a meaningful way. The S.S. Badger fulfills both of those."
The 410-foot Badger started sailing in 1953 to transport railroad freight cars across Lake Michigan and remains the only example of such ships still operating on the Great Lakes today. The vessel, which began operation as a passenger car ferry in the early 1990s, makes about 500 crossings annually.
"We have been working for a long time on getting this vessel named a National Historic Landmark," Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels said. "We're so very excited that we're here today to say Highway 10 will continue ... going to our sister state Michigan for many, many, many years to come thanks to this designation."
S.S. Badger awards and designations
- 1996: The Badger’s propulsion system designated a mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- 1997: Named a Registered Michigan Historic Site by the Michigan Historical Commission
- 1997: Named a Registered Wisconsin Historic Site by the Wisconsin Historical Commission
- 1997: Lake Michigan Carferry designated a Michigan Centennial Business by the Historical Society of Michigan
- 2002: Named Ship of the Year by the Steamship Historical Society of America
- 2009: Placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior
- 2016: Designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior