E. J. Mertaugh Boat Works began in 1925, when Gene Mertaugh built the first boat house out of scrap lumber. He then made Mertaugh's the first Chris-Craft dealership in the world, by navigating his inventory up Lake Huron via compass. Many of these original wooden boats remain in the area today. Some were even used during the Prohibition Era to smuggle alcohol to speakeasies on Mackinac Island.
Every second Saturday in August, Mertaugh Boat Works hosts the Classic and Antique Wooden Boat Show and Festival of the Arts in Hessel. This is the largest wooden boat show in the world. Hundreds of antique wooden boats and fiberglass boats enter every year, and thousands of attendants make the trip to scenic Hessel. Unique vessels, dozens of art vendors, fresh local food, and live music make it a one-of-a-kind destination in the United States.
Our world headquarters is located in Hessel, Michigan, in the historic Les Cheneaux area. Les Cheneaux (French for "the channels") was discovered in 1679 by the French explorer La Salle. The Channels refers to the many narrow passages between the 36 islands of Les Cheneaux.
The area wasn't popular until the early 20th century, when a number of prominent hotels were erected to serve a growing tourist demand. Many of these hotels were built on the islands, and thus only reachable by large steamers. In fact, Arnold Line (the former Mackinac Island ferrying company) began in Les Cheneaux and was primarily devoted to ferrying passengers to and from hotels.
In place of those hotels, boat houses and summer cottages now speckle Les Cheneaux shorelines. But don't worry, there are still plenty of hotels and resorts for you to stay at when you visit E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works and Les Cheneaux.