Ancient Ferries in Philadelphia

From the Public Ledger Almanac for 1882
Page 5

Transcribed by Annie Cheng
PWD Public Education Intern 2003-04
from a copy in the collection of Adam Levine

This is one of three interesting articles from the Public Ledger Almanac, published by what was arguably the best newspaper in the city at the time.
The other two articles can be accessed at the following links:

Changes in the Names of Streams In and About Philadelphia: 1879
Islands in the Delaware & Schuylkill Rivers Within the Boundaries of Phila.: 1882

Austin's Ferry, north side of Arch Street, was established before 1762. It was a place to take passage to Cooper's Point and other parts of New Jersey.

Crooked Billet Ferry, on the Delaware River-a place of resort for vessels from Burlington, Bristol, Trenton, Wilmington, New Castle, etc., from an early period in the history of the city-was situate on the first wharf above Chestnut Street. It was here that Benjamin Franklin lodged when he first came to Philadelphia from Boston, in 1723.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

Jones' Ferry, from the east to the west bank of the Schuylkill, above Pencoyd, and opposite the present town of Manayunk, is marked upon Hill's map of 1808. Its situation is shown at this time by a bridge.

Mendenhall's Ferry, on the Schuylkill, was at the ford reaching from the end of the Ford Road, in the West Park south of Mount Prospect, or Chamounix, to the steamboat landing at the lane which runs to the Ridge Road, between North and South Laurel Hill cemeteries. One Mendenhall kept the ferry-tavern on the west shore for some years after 1800, and the place was at one time a fashionable resort for pleasure-parties and for persons who indulged in the favorite repast "catfish and coffee."

Middle Ferry was established over the Schuylkill at High Street almost from the foundation of the city. One Philip England seems to have been stationed there, but did not discharge his duties satisfactorily. In May, 1685, the council ordered him "to expedite a sufficient ferry-boat for horses and cattle to pass to and fro over the Schuylkill, also to make the way on both sides easy and passable, both for horses and man, to Loe-water mark, otherwise ye Council will take care to dispose of it to such as will perform ye same."

Old Ferry Slip, on the Delaware River, a little below Arch Street, was a very ancient ferry. It was kept by Rawle & Peale in 1762.

Rope Ferry--so called for many years after the commencement of the present century, and sometimes Penrose's Ferry--was when it was established known as Province Island Ferry, and after the Revolution as State Island Ferry. It crossed the Schuylkill from the lower part of the Neck to Province Island, just about where the present Penrose Ferry Bridge is built. Province Island was purchased for public use by the Assembly of Pennsylvania in 1743, and a "pest-house," or hospital for emigrant and quarantine service, built there. The ferry was a necessary convenience as soon as the Lazaretto buildings were finished. Penrose was the keeper of the ferry-tavern at the beginning of the present century. The name Rope Ferry was given because a stout rope or chain was stretched across the river, by means of which the ferry-boat-a sort of scow-was drawn over. When vessels passed up or down the river the rope was lowered and sunk in the water, so that the craft passed over it.

The Lower Ferry seems to have been established before 1696, and was called Benjamin Chambers' Ferry. In the latter year a road was ordered to be laid out from that ferry to come into the southernmost street of the town of Philadelphia. This is the street now known as Gray's Ferry Road.

The Upper Ferry, established on the Schuylkill at a short distance above the upper boundary of the city. It was set up by William Powell in 1692 at the request of the grand jury. But Philip England, who kept the middle ferry, made complaint to the governor and council, which declared that the grand jury had no right to authorize him to set up such a ferry. William Powell then carried on the business in the name of Nathaniel Mullinax, who with Powell was brought before council. Both of them were then ordered to desist and threatened with imprisonment. But, there being great remonstrances from the people who were accommodated by the ferry, it was agreed that the boat should remain, and that the travelers might transport themselves across the ferry, they paying no toll. This trouble was subsequently ended by the proprietary taking possession of the ferry right and issuing licenses to the ferry-masters.


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