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Lakesider News

Miller Boat Line offers quick, budget-friendly ride to Put-in-Bay

By Kevin Greer
Lakeside Communications Manager

Thousands of people take in the beauty of Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island every summer. There are a couple options to get there, but Miller Ferry is the only boat line that can accommodate passengers and vehicles to the islands.

Miller Ferry is at the tip of Catawba Island on Route 53 North, a 20-minute drive from Lakeside. From there, it’s a scenic 18-minute ride to the Lime Kiln Dock on Put-in-Bay and ferries conveniently run every 30 minutes from both docks. Miller Ferry also offers the lowest fares and shortest distance to the islands. Most of the parking near the Catawba Island dock is free.

“Our fares are definitely more budget and family-friendly,” said co-owner Julene Market. “We call ourselves ‘The Short Route.’”

The Miller family started the company back in 1905 as an ice business. During winter months, the crew would saw and harvest about 1,000 tons of block ice and store it in an icehouse insulated with sawdust. Throughout the summer, the Millers sold ice to sailors aboard their yachts, island hotels and restaurants. The family later expanded the service to six charter boats, headed up by the 50-foot Avon.

The Millers owned the boat line until 1978. After the death of her husband, Mary Miller approached longtime friends and fellow islanders Bill and Mary Ann Market about buying the company. Bill started working for the Millers right out of high school and became a captain in the 1950s. They agreed and even kept the Miller name for the business.

“It was out of goodwill and high regards for a family,” Julene said. “It’s an honor and tribute to them. The Miller name is an island tradition and that’s very important to us.”

Bill and Mary Ann kept the business going as the popularity of Put-in-Bay continued to grow. Bill passed away in November 2006 and Mary Ann Market died in April 2010. Julene and her brothers, Bill and Scott, now own and operate Miller Boat Line.

Two of the five boats in the fleet are named after the Market parents. The M/V William Market was built in 1993 and holds up to 500 passengers. The M/V Mary Ann Market is the newest addition and the company’s largest vessel, hitting the lake on July 10, 2022, and can carry up to 600 passengers. For large groups, charters are available.

The company employs around 110 employees. Just like Lakeside, college students fill a good portion of the staff during the summer peak season. To help them find places to live, the Markets are in the process of finishing a new housing complex with five units. Julene says the goal isn’t to have employees work the summer and leave.

“Our company is really focused on employee initiatives,” Julene said. “We want to retain our employees and their families. We want them to consider relocating here and be part of the island community.”

If you don’t take a vehicle to Put-in-Bay, it’s a short walk to E’s Golf Cart Rental, also owned by the Markets. There are 2- 4- and 6-passenger carts available. A discounted weekday ferry ride and golf cart package can be booked at least one day in advance on their website. It’s easy to remember which cart is the one you rented. Instead of a number, they’re named after cartoon characters, superheroes and famous actors. From there, it’s about a two-mile drive downtown.

Julene and her family are lifelong residents of Put-in-Bay. They welcome all the development the island underwent over the years and how it’s brought more than 350,000 visitors annually. She is well-aware of the “party island” reputation but says Put-in-Bay is a great family destination and there are ways to avoid the crowds. She noted the walking trails, cave tours, an aquatic center, wildlife museum, mini golf and places to fish far enough from the downtown area.

“If I meet somebody for the first time and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re from Put-in-Bay. That’s a party place,’” Julene said. “I say, ‘Well, how far did you wander?’ Usually, their answer is downtown. If you go out a little bit further, there are things that a lot of people aren’t even aware of.”

Julene has always been fond of Lakeside and looks forward to taking in a Hoover Auditorium show this summer. She’s also inviting Lakesiders to ride the Miller Ferry to visit the islands to check out some of the many attractions or events.

“There are a lot of great places to go,” Julene said.

Special thanks to Miller Boat Line for being a 2024 Lakeside supporter.


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