Friday, January 14, 2011

Gloucester Point Ferry

Yorktown Beach and Coleman Bridge, May 2008. 

Anyone in Mathews or Gloucester who wants to reach any sort of civilization to the south must cross the Coleman Bridge, which connects Gloucester Point to Yorktown.

Technically, that's not entirely true since we could drive through West Point and then hop on the interstate, but the quickest and most logical route is over the York River at Gloucester Point. Also, I could debate whether what's across the river is civilized or not, but that's a topic for another day.

Like most of our local bridges (including the Gwynn's Island, Piankatank River and Rappahannock River bridges), the Coleman replaced a ferry service.

My grandmother's sister, the former Nellie Streagle, is married to not quite 94-year-old Bill Braxton, who recently e-mailed me some information relating to the Gloucester Point ferry.  Bill was best man in his friend Harold Fenstermacher's wedding back in 1945, and Harold's wife, the former Katherine Jordan, sent Bill the following:

"The first ferry was a 1HP put-put engine on a small flat top boat used to transport horse and buggy from Gloucester Point to Yorktown. 

The first real ferry was the Cornwallis; others were the Miss Gloucester, York, Palmetto, and Miss Washington. The last was the Virginia.

The storm of August 23, 1933, caused tides that were seven feet above normal high tide, destroying the ferry dock at Gloucester Point and the steamboat dock at Yorktown. There was a side slip for the extra ferry the York. When the tide receded, it hung up on the pilings and put a hole in the bottom. The Palmetto had to ride the York River until the tide receded to normal. Capt. Willie Jordan docked the ferry at the Gloucester Point Steamboat Dock nose first by stabilizing the four corners of the ferry to the dock. A ramp was erected so the cars could drive off the ferry safely. The ferry line was owned by W, T. Ashe, Gloucester Point, Va.

In January of 1943 on the ferry York, the bumper of the last bus to board got caught on the landing ramp of dock. When the ferry pulled from the slip, the bus fell in the York River. Harry Jordan, purser, was aboard the bus collecting the fare from the passengers at the time. Fortunately there was only one casualty,

Seven days later another bus, first to board the ferry, drove up to the chain, and applied the brakes, but the brakes failed.  The bus dove in the York River nose first. There were no casualties. The driver was yelling "SAVE MY WIFE! SAVE MY WIFE! GET MY BOOTS OFF I'LL SAVE MYSELF!"

Thank you, Bill, as always, for sending this gem of an e-mail regarding the Gloucester Point ferry.

I'd like to offer the following superfluous observations:

* If I lived back then, I probably would have avoided crossing that river at all costs, thanks to the CBW Luck which would pretty much guarantee experiences like (or worse than) the ones described above.
* How heartwarming and honorable that the driver of the bus wanted people to save his wife.
* But what's up with the boots? Can't he take them off? Did he really want someone to jump in, swim out  to him, take his boots off  and then what? How were they supposed to get his boots off when they're treading water in frigid temperatures? These are the sorts of questions that will haunt me for years on end.  I must know the answers.
* The next time I silently curse that Coleman Bridge, which will be exactly six times next week, I'll remember this story and will be thankful I'm not plunging head first into the York River aboard a bus in the middle of January. Brrrrrr.

But most of all, I'm going to wonder about those boots and how someone was supposed to get them off so he could save himself. Was he going to stand on his head underwater with his feet sticking up?  How would they pull them off? Why can't I let this go?  

Have a great weekend.

Schooner at Yorktown


deborah said...

So interesting! That really is a great e-mail, history you won't find in a book or newspaper.
I really enjoy reading about your county, and can't wait for the book. (No pressure or anything).

Wishing you a great relaxing weekend!

Kay L. Davies said...

I'm also wondering about those boots. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Annie said...

Enjoying your wonderful photos as usual, and of course the stories.

During this great and tragic flood we are in the middle of, have realized how important the stories are to pass down. The authorities kept referring to the big flood of 1974, and most of the young ones whose houses are now flooded weren't even born then. They had no idea what they were expecting. Houses flooded up to the floorboards, up to the many tragic stories, Of course those who had been through it before, knew exactly what to expect.

It has been described as a war zone here, especially after the terrible flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley. A lot of young people hadn't even realized that these things can happen...for example they still refuse to listen to authorities who say ...stay home if you don't need to be out on the roads! Knowing terrible weather and floods were coming, they desperately pleaded with people to change their travel plans before Christmas and stay home. Those who didn't now find themselves cut off from their homes, even loved ones.

Sorry I missed Triple Thursday yesterday, had no power here. Delighted to have the power on again after 36 hours. Has been fun trying to preserve the food in our fridges (in the heat of summer here) without power. Tragic to throw out our only precious food when the shops have to shut because of no food, staff can't even get too the stores, the roads closed, and trucks unable to get through to restock shops.

Even as they continue to pump excess water into the flooded river out of the dangerously over full dams, we are asked to preserve water, so that there will be enough for people to clean out houses etc. Very ironic.

The army has been transporting food into isolated areas, even some suburbs close by here in Brisbane, as well as around the State. Some 86 towns and cities have been affected by floods this wet season in the last month or so. And I mean LOTS of towns have had catastrophic floods. Even today the latest town to be affected, Goondiwindi, was holding its collective breath this morning to see if their levee bank would hold back the largest flood in their history.

And as I write these words, a tropical cyclone has developed off the coast. Currently it is moving away from the coast. If we were to have another significant rain event soon, then we would be in very dire circumstances indeed! As if we aren't already. 15 dead, still over 50 missing in the Lockyer Valley flash flooding unaccounted for.

Sorry to go on with the depressing news, just had to get that off my chest. Hope the scanning works out for you. Hang in there. Great basketball playing there, and hope the birthday goes well for your Dad. Happy Birthday to CBDad. Keep passing on the stories CB parents.

Anonymous said...

Great story CBW, I'm like you after crossing that thing damn near every day for 25 years, it would not bother me in the least if it sank to the bellows of Neptune!
About the boots, I think I would have had a hard time deciding which to save first, the wife or the boots. I sure like me some boots! just saying!

Lynne M said...

I love that story...

I would also debate the whole "civilization" thing over the river. I only lock my doors over there, and I only worry about getting shot in the head walking into a store over there. I don't worry about these things in Gloucester or Mathews... hmmm

PS.. I wonder if that is where the phrase "hold on to your boots" comes from.

Trisha said...

Your stories are always so interesting! Thanks for sharing them with us regularly.

Deltaville Jamie said...

CBW, thank you for those ponderings. I now realize my life was not complete without spending the better part of an hour wondering about that man and his boots. Apparently he got them off somehow as there were no casualties, but how? Perhaps he didn't actually get to save himself. Now every time I venture that way I'm going to think about this...

And Annie- my thoughts and prayers for you, your family and all your neighbors... the flooding there is tragic

Rocket Man said...

That schooner shot is wonderful. Being one of those who grew up on the side where civilization may or may not exist, I can remember riding the Kiptopeake Ferry from Norfolk to the Eastern Shore as a kid. I used to become terribly sea sick in the back seat of Dad's '49 Cadillac on the way to visit my grandparents (on Mom's side) in Massachusetts. For some reason I never got sick on the return trip. Later in life, while settling into my life long vocation, beach rat, I had a ring side seat for watching construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel which spelled the end of the old ferries.

Audrey at Barking Mad said...

I love the story...especially the part about the boots. Most of all though, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the shot of the photo of the schooner. Just love it!

Mental P Mama said...

Happy Birthday to CB Daddy this weekend!