Hugs for all the persons on Fred’s
almost-last run across the Mon River
NOTE: Wednesday was Fred Ferry’s the last day.
The Thursday and Friday runs were cancelled
due to high Monongahela River water.
FREDERICKTOWN FERRY’S ALMOST-LAST RUN
“It’s too bad you read the newspaper,” my husband told me this August 28, 2013, morning as I did my morning wake-up ritual, reading the newspaper while sipping a mug of coffee.
He was referring to a May article I read stating that the historic Fredericktown Ferry would have its last run on September 3, our 47th anniversary.
“Wouldn’t that be a neat way to celebrate?” I commented.
Sporadically through the summer I attempted to learn the last run schedule. I discovered the September 3 date was set not considering that it was after Labor Day weekend. Fred the Ferry would likely have its last run on the Friday before the weekend.
But the momentum for us to visit Fred, was on. As the third week of August arrived, however, we still had no set date. Finding the Fred Ferry website I requested some information in a comment, which garnered an email response from one of the site’s managers, Evan Williams: Since the ferry is on a truncated schedule next week, potentially operating from 6:30 AM to 1:30 PM, we want to get a group, a large group, to meet down the ferry at noon on Wednesday the 28th. We can all get on, take a ride, BS, shoot some final videos for histories sake, and try and get a nice group photograph…
So our question became—Should we wait until Friday for the historic last run or should we join the party on Wednesday?—because going on our anniversary wasn’t an option. But we could celebrate early.
On Tuesday evening I decided I’d had it sorting and filing papers and suffering through a dental appointment. I raised my hands, saying Let’s blow caution to the winds and go. Neither our daughter nor a couple friends could make it either day. However, our good friend Lois made a last-minute change in her day off joined us.
The sky began shedding gentle tears on Tuesday evening as I went to bed at midnight. A little after 1:00 a.m. I heard a dreadful sound. The gentleness of the tears had turned into sobbing, an emotional outburst of raindrops pounding our roof accompanied by a tympani of thunder. At 4:00 and 7:20 a. m. the sky’s tears still flowed amply. Monte said the tears would stop between mid-morning and 1:30 p. m. when more rainfall was predicted.
We left the house at 9:52 a. m. The sky, overcast but its tears no longer falling, was hanging on by an emotional thread, ready to break down at any moment.
We picked up Lois as Ligonier’s Heritage United Methodist Church bells joined the Ligonier Town Hall bells in ringing in the hour—10:00 a. m. For better or worse, we were going to meet Fred for the first time on one of his last rides across the Mon River. Our decision was based on both our anniversary and on the fact that Fred was born in 1790, the same year a group of French emigres crossed from Alexandria, Virginia to the town they were founding, Gallipolis. They traversed the Nemacolin Indian trail to its end at Redstone (Brownsville), a few miles upriver from Fred Ferry. They then traveled up the Mon River to the Ohio River and on to Gallipolis. I’ve researched this because it is a part of the historic romance novel I’m writing on 1790s land speculators Gen. Henry Jackson and William Duer.
The Fredericktown Ferry, 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, is the last of three original ferries to run across s 400 foot wide section of the Monongahela River between Fredericktown, (Washington County) and La Belle (Fayette County).
“It’s a quaint little artifact that we have in Washington County, and we’re proud of it,” said J. Bracken Burns, a commissioner for Washington County, which, along with neighboring Fayette County, has run and subsidized the operation for 20 years. “But how much can you spend on quaintness?”
The ferry began operations in 1790.
Once upon a time Fred Ferry was among a half-dozen private ferry boat companies which met the demand created by the discovery of coal and the subsequent steel mills. Today most of its passengers work at the prison in Fayette County, but the Mon-Fayette Expressway, a new bridge crossing the river, has contributed to Fred’s demise. And Fred is losing money.
The current ferry, the last cable-driven ferry in operation on the Mon River. was built in 1948.
It was privately owned until 1969 when decreased ridership and inability to make a profit closed it. In the early 1970s a Ferry Commission was formed, and in 1979 Fayette County agreed to operate and maintain the Ferry, with Washington County contributing 50% of the costs.
We joined a small but growing group at 11:30 a. m.
A wheelchair-bound woman, Marie Shabin Eadie, knows Fred. She was born on January 10, 1936, in a now torn down house on the Mon River’s eastern bank, where Fred Ferry docked. She and her husband Jim rode Fred Ferry as part of their 60th wedding anniversary celebration. They wed August 15,
On the Fredericktown side she pointed to a white house in La Belle adjacent to Fred’s ferry landing, stating “My best friend lived right over there in that big house. I remember playing there.” She also recalls the time the cable on Fred broke while carrying her friend across the Mon.
Her birthplace is now part of or near the current prison.
“Not too many people can say the prison ground was their playground,” she said. “Back then it was a farm.”
Evan Williams II, Danielle Crooks, Chip Guesman and Jennifer Holleran, administrator of the group, passed the word about the Wednesday event to about 28,000 persons this week, using their Facebook page, Friends of the Fredericktown Ferry, where people can share their pictures and memories.
What happens to Fred after its final scheduled on Friday?
It’s uncertain. There is some talk about turning it into a land-based museum in Fredericktown.
Before our final ride we went with others to enjoy a piece of cake provided by Jennifer and served at the Bower Brothers Lounge near Fred’s landing.
We were quite fortunate that the sky kept its tears in check while we enjoyed 2 ½ round trips on Fred Ferry. On the half trip our car traveled from Washington County to Fayette County. This is when I shot the neatest picture—of our Garmin:
About 3:00 p. m. a blinding, flash-flood eruption of tears from above began.
Before reaching Mt. Pleasant we experienced a torrent of tears from above. A big truck, driving in opposing traffic through a dip filled with almost a foot of water, sent a wave of the wet stuff through Monte’s open window.
In Mt. Pleasant we stopped at A & W Root Beer and ordered their 99 cent floats.
“Isn’t it ironic that TODAY we are getting root beer FLOATS? Lois asked.
Yes. A fitting end to the day.