Mackinac Island's Arnold Transit Co. Changes Ownership

MACKINAC ISLAND, MICHIGAN – James F. Wynn has purchased the Arnold Transit Company, a Mackinac Island ferry service, from the Prentiss M. Brown family, who has owned the business since 1921. The firm’s name, schedule and experienced staff will be retained. Robert Brown, grandson of Prentiss M. Brown and son of the late James J. Brown, will continue as General Manager. The transition was effective June 22, 2010. “We are delighted to be continuing the Arnold Transit Co. tradition as the front door to Mackinac Island,” Wynn said. “We take great pride in continuing the Mackinac Island experience that Arnold Transit Co. has been dedicated to since its inception in 1878.”

Mr. Wynn was born and raised in Petoskey and is a fourth generation Petoskey native. He is the great grandson of Frederick J. Schmitt, the founder of Michigan Maple Block Company located in Petoskey and Bally, Pennsylvania. Michigan Maple Block Co. continues to be owned by members of Mr. Wynn’s family. Wynn graduated from Petoskey High School, received a B.S. in Finance and Accounting from The Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He was CEO and Vice Chairman of the Board of National Wholesale Drug Co., a pharmaceutical distributing company located in Detroit. He has been involved in numerous corporate mergers and acquisitions, as well as the financing thereof, both nationally and internationally.

He is past President of the Petoskey Area Chamber of Commerce, Treasurer and Board Member of the Friendship Centers of Emmet County and a current Board Member of Allied EMS Systems. Wynn lives in Petoskey with his wife Candi, and they have a grown daughter and son. 

George T. Arnold and L.B. Coats saw a need for reliable marine transportation to Mackinac Island in 1878 and founded the Arnold and Coats Ferry Line. One of the first Arnold boats was a coal-fired side-wheeler. Steamers at that time were 200 ft. long, compared to today’s 80-90 ft. ferries. In 1886 Arnold acquired the steamer Algomah, which can be seen today at Greenfield Village. As the railroads brought visitors from Chicago and Detroit to the Straits, Arnold bought out his partners and incorporated the company in 1890, adding more steamers to the fleet.

When George Arnold died in 1921, his wife Susan continued to run the ferry service. A local attorney, Prentiss M. Brown, Sr., and Otto Lang, accountant, assisted with the firm’s business affairs. When Mrs. Arnold died a few years later, Brown and Lang purchased the Arnold interests. In the decades that followed Prentiss M. Brown’s sons, daughters and grandchildren owned and operated the company.

Diesel-powered vessels followed, and by 1963 Arnold Line had seven of the smaller, more efficient boats, crossing the Straits in half an hour. In 1987 the first passenger-carrying catamaran was brought to the Great Lakes by Arnold Transit. The company’s fleet consists of 11 boats today.

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