Over the last century, most of the ferries on the James River have been replaced by a growing network of bridges and tunnels. Although these structures are remarkable feats of engineering, there’s still an air of romance to the old ferries and their crew, and plenty of secrets and trivia surround the James River ferries that remain today.
Take a drive down Va. Route 31 for a trip across the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Stand amid the mixed scents of mud and marsh and the clamor of gulls as you enjoy a breezy reprieve from the summer swelter and cross Virginia’s Founding River. For more than the reasons given in your high school textbooks, this crossing has a place in history. Did you know the ferry is actually the subject of a hit song? That’d be Tanya Tucker’s 1972 top-ten country hit, “The Jamestown Ferry.” Dust off that old record collection in the basement and give it a listen.
The Jamestown Ferry may be the most well-known ferry system currently operating on the river, but a second ferry further upstream flies under the radar. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates a cable ferry from Bermuda Hundred to Presquile Island. This ferry has a lot of character, and while it’s currently closed to the public, it has been the primarily link to the mainland since the James was channelized in 1937. While it has a long history, even this rusty old contraption can’t claim to be the oldest ferry on the river. For that, we have to travel yet farther upstream.
Since 1870 the Hatton Ferry, just upstream of Scottsville, has moved men and material across the mighty James. To cross the Hatton Ferry is to step back in time. Two hundred years ago more than a thousand non-mechanized, poled ferries operated around the country. Today the Hatton Ferry is the only one that remains. Maintained by the state for years, the ferry is now in the care of The Hatton Ferry Fund, a local nonprofit that raises money to cover basic operation and upkeep.
Regardless of which ferry you pick for your next adventure, these old boats have class and style. Head down to the James and check them out!