"Mary Ann Market" pays homage to beloved Miller Boat Line matriarch

When Mary Ann Market’s husband died in 2006, her eldest grandson moved in with her to help her around her South Bass Island home and keep her company. 

But she probably took care of him more than he did her, says her grandson, Jake Market. 

“I moved in as a sophomore in high school,” Jake says. “She ended up doing all my laundry and cooking. We talked about everything. We were very close, and I cherished that time with her.”

After Jake left for Oberlin College, he still spent summers on the island with his grandmother and worked for the family’s longtime island business, The Miller Boat Line. The boat line offers passenger and vehicle ferry service to the island, home of tourist hotspot village of Put-in-Bay, and to its neighbor, Middle Bass Island

Mary Ann and her husband, Bill, bought the boat line in 1978 and remained involved in the operations until they passed away. Mary Ann died in 2010. Their children and grandchildren, including Jake, now a captain with the company and who has a family of his own, run the business. 

“She really took an active role in supporting the local charities, and that was really her calling, especially later in life,” says Jake, noting she was president of the Perry Group, a non-profit that supports Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, and the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society, among other organizations. “She’d spend part of the day taking care of her family, part of the day taking care of the boat line, and part of the day taking care of the community.”

When the company decided it was time to add a new ferry to its fleet, naming it after Mary Ann was an easy choice for the family. And Jake, one of the company’s captains, was quick to volunteer to help lead the project to have the craft designed, built, and brought to Put-in-Bay. 

Passengers unload from the "Mary Ann Market" at the Lime Kiln Dock at Put-in-Bay. (Photo/Kristina Smith)The “Mary Ann Market” arrived in Ohio last year and began taking passengers and vehicles to and from South Bass Island on July 10, 2022. The family and co-project manager Captain David Bianchi celebrated the ferry’s first birthday with cake and cherry sparkling wine from Door County, Wisconsin, where the boat was built. 

“All of the boats are part of the family, but that one even more so,” Jake says, pointing to the “Mary Ann Market” as it heads toward the Lime Kiln dock on South Bass Island. “This is the queen of the fleet now.”

The “Mary Ann Market” is the fifth boat in the Miller Boat Line’s fleet, which includes a 30-year-old ferry named “William Market” after Mary Ann’s husband. Measuring 140 long and 38.5 feet wide, the “Mary Ann Market” can carry 600 people and about 28 vehicles. 

The Miller fleet takes about 400,000 people and more than 50,000 vehicles – from cars to commercial vehicles to RVs, UPS trucks and more - to South Bass Island each year, says Katrina Reed, the boat line’s marketing manager. The boats are the main transport for trucks carrying groceries and other essentials there.

The first level of the “Mary Ann Market” has a climate-controlled cabin that accommodates wheelchairs and passengers who are unable to climb the stairs to the upper deck. The chairs in the cabin fold up to allow more space for wheelchairs. 
“When my grandmother was alive, she was pushing for us to put that in our next design,” Jake says. 

Mary Ann was friends with the other islanders and understood their needs as they grew older and sometimes developed mobility issues, he says. She wanted to make sure everyone, from the tourists to the islanders, felt comfortable on the company’s boats. 

On the ferry’s second deck, there are additional upgrades. The stairs to that level are wider than on the other boats. 

The second-deck cabin is also climate-controlled. Between the outside area and inside cabin, 250 people can sit on the upper deck, compared to 150 on the company’s other ferries, Jake says. 

“We wanted to give people more area to get out of the weather,” Jake says.
The pilot house, also climate-controlled, on the third – or bridge – deck offers large windows and a comfortable cabin for the captain. Three engines and a bow thruster at the front of the boat help the captains maneuver more easily, which is most helpful when docking, says Captain Brian Woischke, who has worked for the Miller Boat Line for 15 years. 

“Our existing fleet is really good,” Jake says. “We just wanted to improve a little bit in every way on this boat.”

The Miller Boat Line hired architect Elliott Bay Design Group to design the ferry and worked with SeaCraft Design for some modifications made before the boat was delivered. It was built at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, and completed by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Jake and Bianchi served as the project managers. Jake handled contracts and working with the needs of the shipyard and architect, as well as the electronic side of the equipment, and Bianchi chose the mechanical equipment. 

“We complement each other a lot,” Jake says. 

For the Market family and the Miller Boat Line staff, the biggest bonus is that the “Mary Ann Market” gives people an improved experience in getting to the islands. 
“We haul a lot of people and a lot of cars,” Jake says. “We say that getting here is half the fun. Everyone loves a boat ride.”