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Ferries

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Saved by Shamella Cromartie
on July 30, 2009 at 11:00:34 am
 

Bladen County Ferries

by Rev. Nash A. Odom

 

From the earliest beginning of Bladen County there have been ferries to transport people across the rivers.  But like the covered bridge, the river ferry has all but disappeared from the American scene.  There is only one ferry now operating in Bladen County and that is Elwell’s Ferry near Kelly.  The story of these ferries could make an interesting chapter in the history of our county.

 

Perhaps the oldest ferry in the county was Isaac Jones’ Ferry at Elizabethtown.  This ferry was in operation and met all the qualifications for a public ferry when the town was founded in 1773.  Isaac Jones left his ferry to his son, Musgrove Jones in his will that was dated September 10, 1783.  In his will he mentions “My ferry in Elizabethtown.”  This ferry was replaced by the McGirt Bridge in the middle 1920’s.  All that remains of the Elizabethtown ferry today is the road that leads to the landing beside the new bridge.

 

There was a ferry located below Elizabethtown that was known as “Waddell’s Ferry” and this ferry got its name from the Hugh Waddell family that owned the “Belefonte Plantation” near the ferry.  This ferry was located about two miles below Elizabethtown and just below Lock No. 2.  The only remains of this ferry is the old store that stood on the road leading to the river on the East side.  The remains of an old turpentine still can be found close to this old store on the bluff of the river.

 

There was also a ferry at “Indian Wells” that was located near the county line about midway between Elizabethtown and Wilmington.

 

An article in the FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER, dated January 28, 1973, provides us with the story of “Elwell Ferry.”  This is the only ferry in Bladen County in operation today and is a pleasant tie to yesteryear.

 

Some 20 miles below Elizabethtown near the once-elegant Revolutionary War-era mansion, Oakland, once the home of General Thomas Brown, one can today take a ride into the past on a ferry which has operated continuously at the same spot on the historic Caope Fear River since 1906.  It is the only remaining inland ferry in North Carolina.

 

There have been days when the ferry was unable to operate, like when it was down for repairs, or when the river was deemed too high for a safe crossing.

 

But by and large, it has operated daily since John R. Russ and Dr. W.H.G. Lucas went before the Bladen County Board of Commissioners armed with a citizens petition and argued successfully for the rights to operate a ferry at the site.

 

It was christened “Elwell Ferry” in honor of a pioneer family of that name that had settled in that area.

 

John Russ and his brother, Walter, purchased the right-of-way on either side of the river from Mr. David Robeson.  They built a road through the muddy lowlands and floored it with oak lumber.

 

The ferry the Russ brothers built was 33 feet long and 12 feet wide and could carry two mules and wagons loaded.  It was pulled up one side of the river with a gig (a long pole with a sharp metal point and hook).  Oars were then used, with the help of the river current, to pull it across the river.

 

The method of operation was employed until the ferry was motorized in 1937.

 

Walter Russ operated the first ferry and was paid about $25 for six days operation per week.  If he operated on Sunday, he charged 25 cents per vehicle until 9 p.m. and, after nine, the fee went to 50 cents.  The ferry was operated on a toll basis until the state assumed its operation in 1931.

 

The majority of persons using the ferry in the early days were farmers taking their cotton to gin at Council.  Doctors also used it to attend patients on the east side of the river.

 

Walter Russ operated the ferry until his death on March 1, 1942, when gas fumes collected and it exploded.  It was rebuilt a short while later and operated by B.R. Melvin until his death.

 

After Melvin’s death, the ferry was operated by Arthur Horrell for a short period, and then by W.C. Jones until his retirement in 1962.

 

Subsequent operators included W. Clyde Brown, H.B. Bigford, L.R. Russ, W.C. Jones, and Thurman Brown.

 

The ferry’s present operators are J.C. McDuffie and P.D. Hall.  The two work staggered shifts, three days one week and four days the next.

 

McDuffie is a retired Army sergeant who spent 11 years at Ft. Bragg.  Despite its isolation, McDuffie relishes the “easy going” connected with being a ferry operator.  There is a small cabin about 25 yards from the ferry landing that is used by the men to stay out of the weather.

 

About 45 to 50 cars a day are ferried across the 120 yard wide, 12 feet deep channel.  A round trip takes five minutes.  During the summer months, the traffic is greater, with between 65 to 70 vehicles using the ferry.  It operates from sunrise to sunset part of the year and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the time.

 

Elwell Ferry is truly a tie to yesterday.

 

from The Bladen Journal, 7/19/1973

 

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/billg2/3556036371/

 

 

1920's School Bus on Ferry 

 

 

  

Elwell Ferry

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