|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
* 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|