Monday, October 8, 2007
Far away ferry
FREDERICKTOWN, Pa. – If this old river ferryboat was closer to a city, it would be earning huge tourism dollars.
But, stuck deep in the country, Ferry Boat Frederick mainly shuttles prison workers back and forth across the Monongahela River between Fredericktown and East Fredericktown in Fayette County.
“It’s not going to be a tourist attraction,” said Scott Bower, a local historian from Fredericktown.
“Can you believe it’s in little Fredericktown and no one knows it’s here?” added Bower’s son, Scott, who co-owns a nearby bar.
There has been a ferry in the area since 1790 or earlier, when James Crawford escorted people across the Mon in a wooden boat that crossed a short distance to the north, where Fish Pot Run spills onto Route 88.
The current, 60-foot steel boat was built in 1948 and is the only remaining one of its kind in operation east of the Mississippi River. The 35-ton vessel is powered by an engine that pulls it across the river along an underwater steel cable. It can carry as many as six vehicles and a small number of pedestrians.
The ferry sat on the shore from about 1963 to 1973 after its former owners, Ed and Betty Bercoski, realized it was no longer profitable to stay in business.
The red and white boat was rescued in a partnership between Washington and Fayette counties because there are no bridges in the area. It would be dry-docked for repairs one more time in 1997 after a coal barge struck the cable.
The ferry’s future was again in doubt two years ago when its hours of operation were cut because of a shortage of pilots, who must be certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. At the time, it was making about 50 400-foot trips a day across the river.
The pilot shortage came at a time when ridership had doubled with the 2004 opening of State Correctional Institution at Fayette, a prison across the river from Fredericktown.
“In the summertime, it’s beautiful,” said Jim Harvey, 60, a ferry pilot from LaBelle. “The wintertime, high water, can be a little tricky and cold.”
“I love it,” added Carl Walker of Waynesburg, a prison manager who uses the ferry to get to work.