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Full text of "The history and operation of the ferry at Benedict, Md. / by Ralph W. Watt."

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THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OP TEE PERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 



THESIS PRESENTED TO 

MARYLAND BETA CHAPTER 

TAU BETA PI 



BY 
RALPH W. WATT 






APRIL 17, 1931. 



-I- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

SUMMARY 

Although there are early references to a mail 
route across the Patuxent at Benedict, there seem to be no 
references to a ferry at that place. A study of the condi- 
tions of trade and living at the time bears out the proba- 
bility that there was no ferry. 

In more recent times there have been some ferrying 
operations carried on at irregular Intervals and with the 
most convenient equipment. However it can hardly be said that 
a ferry existed. 

The year 19£2 saw a ferry start making trips across 
to Burch's Landing (variously known as Burch and Holland Point )♦ 
Reputed indifference in operation is said to have caused 
considerable inconvenience to patrons. 

In 1925, a rival line started business. Competition 
waxed warm. There was a court clash over landing rights at 
Holland Point which ended in both sidesgetting equal privi- 
leges. Toward the end of the year the original operator 
discontinued and left the field to the newcomer. 

The ferrying is carried on by means of rather 
simple, but at the same time adequate and effloient equip- 
ment. Trips are made on call throughout the year. Rates 
are moderate and the service is convenient. 



\ 



-II- 

THE HISTORY AHD OPERATION OP THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 
In spite of the competition of the new Southern 
Maryland Boulevard east of the Patuxent, the ferry is reported 
to be In a healthy financial condition and should continue 
to serve the public indefinitely. 






THE HISTORY AND OPERATION 0? THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 

Benedict, Maryland, situated in Charles County on 
the Patuxent River about fifty miles south and east of Wash- 
ington, D. C, is located in that part of southern Maryland 
which is sufficiently remote from the Nation's Capital to 
have escaped the suburban influence of that city. 

Charles County, possessor of an extended shore line 
on the Potomac River, would be entirely shut off from the 
Patuxent were it not for a neck of land some three and a half 
or four miles long and two to two and a half miles wide which 
runs back from the river to join the main body of the county 
in the vicinity of a North-South line through the village of 
Patuxent. Benedict is located on the river end of this 
strip, a short distance above Indian Creek which divides 
Charles from St. Mary's County on the south and is the only 
town in the county on the Patuxent River, 

Benediot-Leonardtown, later shortened to Benedict, 
was first settled under the township plan of the Maryland 
Assembly in 1683. At that time the town was in Calvert 
County but, about 1700, when the west shore holdings of 
Calvert were apportioned among the west shore counties, 
Benedict was placed in Charles County* 



-2- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OP THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, US. 

By the year 1695, southern Maryland, though thin- 
ly settled, felt the need of a post to take mail and packages 
to Annapolis, on from there by Stage to Philadelphia, and 
even to New York: if occasion demanded. Accordingly, on Kay 
£2, 1695, the Assembly appointed John Perry to carry the post 
for the sum of fifty pounds sterling yearly. He wss to carry 
all official documents without fee. His route started at 
Newton's Point on the T Yiccooomoco {now 'Vicomico) River, pass- 
ed over the Patuxent at Benedict-Leonardtown, and on to Ann- 
apolis. The trip was to he made eight times a year. 

The crossing of the Patuxent at Benedict opens the 
question of mode of accomplishmBnt and hints at the possible 
existence of a ferry across the river at that point. 

There seem to be neither existing records of such 
an institution nor any references thereto, although the re- 
cords of the Assembly contain the letter that Perry carried 
by which he was empowered to commandeer the aid and facili- 
ties of any ship riding at Wiccocomoco when his official 
duties took him into Virginia and caused him to cross the 
Potomac. 

A study of the conditions bears out the conten- 
tion that no ferry existed at that time at Benedict. 



-3- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

Southern Maryland was a lane! of plantations whose 
principal crop was tobacco. The market for this crop lay in 
the mother country. Direct water transportation was not far 
distant any point in the territory. The Chesapeake Bay on the 
east, the Patuxent cutting into the peninsula about a third of 
the way across toward the west, and the Potomac on the west 
with its many navigable arms reaching far into the land, 
afforded excellent facilities for shipping. Indeed, branches 
of the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers which today are hardly 
navigable to a rowboat, vera then accessible to ocean vessels, 
for the sedimentation which ruined them was only then be- 
ginning to be accelerated because of deforestation by the 
colonists. Since trade was thus limited as to market and 
aided by natural transportation advantages, there was no need 
to develop trade routes north and south, with the result that 
a ferry was not needed for trade purposes. 

Further, the interests of the planters lay in the 
home pariah and county, save only the attention that was di- 
rected to affairs of the Assembly. Overland conveyances and 
roads were of the most primitive sort. Almost universally 
owned, boats were used in journeying about on the convenient 
waters of creek, river and bay, and this obviated the 
necessity of a traveller's ferry. Since the planters were 
undoubtedly friendly to the post, by means of which they had 



-4- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

their meager but essential communication with the northern 
colonies, it seems logical to assume that Perry used the most 
convenient plantation boat when his work called him to cross 
the Patuxent. 

Early in 1698, Perry, who had been a faithful 
public servant, died. His position, thus made vacant, was 
never filled. Maryland abandoned the post, although it may 
have been carried on by Pennsylvania. 

Benedict, was reincorporated in 1733, must have con- 
tinued to be the tobacco port on the east of Charles County 
and perhaps to serve nearby parts of St. Marys and Prince 
Georges Counties. However, Port Tobacco, on the Port Tobacco 
river, a branch of the Potomac, centrally located in the 
county as a glance at the map shows, maintained the position 
of leading town of the county. 

The sudden shift of attention from water to 
land transportation caused by the coming of the railroads 
about the time of the Civil 7/ar, doomed both Port Tobacco 
and Benedict. Hughesville, seven miles inland, on the 
Southern Maryland railroad, began to replace Benedict as 
eastern center of trade in the region. 

Meanwhile, the tide of immigration was sweeping 
by and overlooking the good opportunities of Southern Mary- 
land, its eye set on richer opportunities elsewhere. More- 
over, an actual decline in the population of this section 



-5- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OP THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

"began in 1800. The resulting decrease in population, to- 
gether with the reduced fertility of the land, long devoted 
to a single crop, had "begun to reduce the trade through the 
ports of the county before the railroads came. 

However, the railroads were not to receive all the 
trade. Vessels were able to hold their own in handling ship- 
ments under certain favorable conditions. Steam replaced 
sail to a large extent toward the latter part of the nine- 
teenth century and the steamboat lines gained control of most 
of the wharves. This forced the provision of small scows 
for loading and unloading sailing vessels at their anchorage 
in the stream. 

The occasional ferrying operations which came to be 
necessary as time advanced were carried on by means of these 
scows propelled by sweeps but this intermittent work was 
neither done by any particular scow nor as a definite business. 
Therefore, it cannot be far from the truth to say, with the 
inhabitants, that there was not a ferry at Benedict in the 
recent past. 
HISTORY OF THE EXISTING FERRY 

The ferry at Benedict owes its existence to two 
facts. The first is that following the World "Var a much im- 
proved automobile was made more universally available to the 



-6- 

THE HISTORY AMD OPERATION OF THE FERR? AT BEMEDIOT, HD. 

people of our country. The second ia that the automobile en- 
abled the people to heed the call of the outdoors at greater 
and greater distances. 

Resorts on the peninsula between the Chesapeake 
and the Patuxent gained public favor. Solomon's Island 
quickly grew to be a prime favorite of the fishermen. The 
shortest, quickest route from '.Tashington to Solomon's lay, 
not over the winding, difficult road through Upper Marlboro, 
iut . Zion and Prince Frederick, but rather down through the less 
thickly settled region between the Patuxent and the Potomac 
to Benedict, over the river to Burch's Landing and Prince 
Frederick and on to the destination, if one could cross the 
river conveniently . 

Also t the neighboring people, their interests wid- 
ened by the coming of the automobile, and travelling salesmen 
as well, in increasing numbers, needed to cross the river to 
conveniently meet the new demands on their time. 

Accordingly, about 1922, a Mr« Higgs of Benedict, 
began to run a ferry across to Burch's Landing, now locally 
known as Holland Point (called Burch on the map). It is said 
that the ferry operator, when business became slack, wo$ld 
often leave the ferry without an attendant to go off fishing 
or oystering and that at times patrons were delayed at the 
crossing as long as half a day. 



-7- 
THE HISTORY AND OPERATION Oi 1 THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

Traffic increased and in the spring of 1925, 
Mr. P. C. Henderson, a Benedict storekeeper, began to operate 
a rival line. Competition became bitter for there was not 
sufficient business to allow both ferries to operate at a 
reasonable profit. Townspeople took sides and actively sol- 
icitated business for one ferry or the other, mostly, it is 
reported, for the Higgs boat since they seemed to believe that 
Henderson was not playing fair. The opposition even went so 
far as to make an attempt to deny Henderson the right of 
landing on the Holland Point side of the river. 

When the road was built to the, present landing place 
at Holland Point the surfacing was stopped some twenty feet 
short of the river in order that high water might not under- 
mine and ruin it although the road extended and was used to 
the water' 3 edge. The owner of the adjacent land who had 
allowed the road to cross his holdings, now claimed that the 
right of way ended with the surfacing and the last few feet 
belonged to him. Accordingly, he leased this land to Higgs 
and an injunction was sought to restrain Henderson from land- 
ing on this strip. 

Then the State Roads Commission threatened to condemn 
sufficient ground to provide a landing place free to both 
parties. After this action, the suit for the injunction was 
dropped and no further attempts were made to deny Henderson 
the right to land at Holland Point, 



-8- 



THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE JERRY AT BENEDICT, MD . 



The photograph 
opposite shows the broad 
strip of beach available 
for landing and the 
planks laid down to take 
the cars over the loose 
sand. The road runs from 
near the steamboat wharf 



CtaJ 






( just out of camera range 
to the left) behind the white sand ridge in the foreground 
and out of the picture between the two large trees in the 
right background. 



About the end of the year (1925) the Higgs ferry 
discontinued service and Henderson had the field to himself. 
He has retained his hold on the business to the present time. 
FLOAT I NO SHIPMENT 

The equipment used by the ferry comprises two scows 
(so-called in reports to Maryland Public Service Commission). 
The first, 26 feet long by 14 feet wide, has a capacity of 20 
tons and will carry five Fords. The second can take loads up 
to 12 tons, is 30 feet long by 12 feet wide, and will carry 
two small cars. Mr. Bowen, the ferry operator, says that n t 
times the small boat has carried three model T Fords although 
at first glance the capacity would seem to be but a single oar. 



-9- 
TffE HISTORY AND OP; RATI ON 0? THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

The scows ire constructed of white oak and are de- 
signed so that the load is distributed by 4x4 stringers over 
a series of supporting posts ard the sides of the hull. 

The hull is about 3 feet deep, the long sides 
thereof rise vertically from the bottom while the ends slant 
upward at an angle of about 45 degrees. These sloping ends 
are protected from scuffing on the beaches by metal strips 
which are spaced about nine inches apart laterally and run 
from the deck down to the bottom of the hull. 

The power is furnished by two cylinder-two ayis cycle 
marine engines set on a platform built on the bottom stringers. 
The engine cockpit is placedabout five feet from the stern in a 
position for direct driving of the propeller. 

The rudder is controlled by a sweep handle which 
reaches to the rear of the cockpit so that one man can tend 
the motor and the steering from the same position. 

'Vhen either of the boats is carrying a capacity 
load, the ferryman must get under a car to reach his motor 
because one of the cars must be pushed over the cockpit to 
complete the loading. 

A low railing of 2x4 orx&x* stringers on 4x4 posts 
runs along the sides and across the stern of the boat. In the 
absence of a more substantial bulkhead, the safe arrival of 
the cars on the other side is guaranteed by the sircple expedi- 



-10- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

ent of chocking the wheels with pieoes of log flattened on one 
side. 

Two cars on the 
little scow. Note the 
railing and the chock: behind" 
front wheel of the second 
car. 




LANDING EQUIPMENT 

The landing at Benedict is actually located on pri- 
vate ground but no attempt has ever been made to deny the pri- 
vilege of its use as was the case on the Holland Point shore 
described above. 

Some of the inhabitants say that the ferry landing 
is on the State road. However, the facts are that the State 
road turned about 150 yards short of the present landing and 
ran to the old steamboat wharf while the road over which 
traffic reaches the ferry landing is a private road opened 
some years ago by the owners of the cottages and hotels along 
the water front for their own convenience and over their own 
land. Efforts are being made a\ the present time to have the 
State take over and improve this 3irt road at least to the 
ferry landing. 



-11- 

THE HI ST CRY MS OPERATION OF THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, US. 

Docks or slips of any sort are impractical for two 

reasons, i^irst, the boats are so small and any automobile is 

such a large proportion of the total capacity of the boat that 

as 30on as the front wheels came on at the bow they would 

cause tipping and possible disaster f if artificial support 

not 
were /present. Second, the cost of building any slips, not 

to mention slips of proper design to provide the artificial 
support mentioned above, would be out of proportion to the 
magnitude of the operation. Therefore, on both sides, the 
ferry lands by the simple expedient of driving her nose onto 
the beach and allowing the load to be removed over the gang 
board. This is about seven feet long, extends nearly the 
width of the boat, and is hinged to the bow, A lever on 
each side of the gang board, attached by a short length of 
chain, serves to hold it raised in transit when the handle 
is pushed down and secured by slipping a loop of rope into 
a notch on the top near the inboard end. 

Photograph on 
right shows gang board lever. 
Note chain attaching it to 
gang board, fulcrum and 
braoing, and rope loop hold- 
ing end of handle. 




-12- 
THE HISTORY MB OPERATION OF THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

Constructed of heavy white oak planks secured cross- 
wise on four shorter battens, the gang board is obviously the 
limiting factor with regard to the individual loads which can 
be carried. Probably the heaviest single unit transported was 
a C. & P. Telephone Company line truck fully loaded with wire, 
the weight of which may have reached seven tons. 
OPERATION 

The ferry is available for service 24 hours a day 
every day in the year, weather and water permitting, accord- 
ing to the statement of thd owner. As a usual thing, how- 
ever, service is suspended on the Holland Point side at 
9 P. M. unless an appointment is made for later service, 
although, If one Is persistent enough in blowing his horn, he 
may"blow" the operator out of his bed and across the river to 
fetch him. The same rule applies to service at Benedict, 
except that a call at the operator's house replaces the horn 
blowing. 

There is no regular schedule of crossings. The 
ferry stays at Benedict until a fare comes or until the white 
signal flag flutters to the top of the signal msx mast across 
the river. to indicate a waiting car. Those who make the trip 
often have come to expect to wait on the Holland Point side. 



-13- 
THE HI3T0HY AND OPERATION OF TSE FERR'f AT BENEDICT, MD. 
Therefore, even if the trip is made light, the "boat returns 
to Benedict soon after each crossing. 



The signal on the Holland 
Point shore is pictured opposite. It 
is more discernible from the Benedict 1 
side than is shown in the photograph 
"because the low surrounding hills 
form a dark background, for an 
observer on the far shore. 



r 





The charges for crossing are flat rates on the 
vehicle and nothing additional for extra passengers. 
The tolls are as follows: 

All passenger cars ....$1.00 

1 ton truck (light) ,. 1.00 

1 ton truck (loaded) 1,25 

2 ton truok (light) 1.25 

All other trucks (graduated according 

to weight and load) #1.50 to ,$2.50 

The highest rate that has been charged was $3.00 for 
a special drilling rig which is said to have been an exception- 
ally difficult job because of its length (truck and trailer 



-14- 
THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE FERRY AT BENEDICT, MD. 

about 40 feet A 

The ferry owner estimated that during the four 
months, May, June, July and August, his equipment transports 
an average of about ten oars a day, with an average of six a 
day for the rest of the year. Saturday and Sunday are the 
days of heaviest traffic. However, observation revealed six 
cars ferried in three hours at mid-day on an April Friday. 
The inclement weather of the preceding two days may have been 
a factor in the seemingly abnormal traffic. 

The average time required for a trip is a little 
less than ten minutes, although with ideal natural conditions 
and handling, the trip can be made in six. On one occasion 
the crossing was accomplished only after a cruise of forty- 
five minutes. A strong wind was • quartering over the river. 
'.Vater, driven before the wind was breaking high over the deck. 
The ferryman thought the occasion was hardly right for an 
attempt at crossing but the insistence of the driver won him 
his demand. He would be taken across if he were willing to 
risk dropping his car to the bottom of the Patuxent ,some fifty 
odd fdet deep in the channel. The ferryman declared that the 
rash fellow was begging to turn back before they had reached 
midstream but that he did not have this desire gratified by 
the obliging ferryman, who set him down on the other side. 



-15- 

THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, HD. 

OUTLOOK FOR THE FERRY 

A competitor to the ferry, but a boon to the people 
of the territory east of the Patuxent, the Southern Ivlaryland 
Boulevard, opened in the summer of 1930, outs off about ten 
miles of the distance from Upper Marlboro to points in the 
central and lower peninsula. Then, too, the new road has pro- 
vided relief from tortuous curves whioh made driving over the 
old road slow and difficult. The combined saving in time 
effeoted by these improvements haB made it economical for many 
people who formerly used the ferry to drive around through 
upper Marlboro when going from one side of the Patuxent to the 
other, For example, people living as far down on the western 
peninsula as : Valdorf are now only 36 miles by road from Chesa- 
peake Beach, 

However, in the year 1930, In spite of the Inroads 
of the six months operation of the new highuay, coupled with 
the reduced traffic naturally brought about by the business 
depression, the owner reports a profit in the neighborhood 
of $600. on a capital investment of <$2,080. This would not 
be sufficient to tempt a man to run the ferry as hiB only 
business but when it is run as a side line it becomes an 
attractive proposition. 

moreover, as the interests of the neighboring 
people branch and spread, they will come the more to call 



-16- 

THE HI3T0HY AND OPERATION OP THE PERRY AT BENEDICT, KD. 



on the ferry to transport them "back and forth in the course 
of their normal business and social life. 

Favored by being a financial success and with pros- 
pects of increasing traffic, the ferry should continue to 
benefit both the neighboring people and their city brothers 
indefinitely. 

FINIS 




The above illustration shows the author's car about 

to be landed on the Holland Point side. By looking carefully 

through the rear window of the car, one can discern the back 

of the second car on the boat. The steamboat wharf to the 

right is not a bridge as would seem at first glanoe but ex- 

to 
tends only about two hundred yards in/ the stream which is 

nearly a mile wide at this point. 






-17- 
THE HISTORY AND OPERATION OF THE PERRY AT BENEDICT , MD. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 
Officer Hall (S.C.U.P.) 

Mr, P. G. Henderson, ferry owner 

Mr. Bowen, ferry operator 

"History of Maryland" John Thomas Soharf 

Records of the Maryland Historical Society 

Publications of the Maryland Geological Survey 

Clippings at the Carnegie Library in Washington 

"The Chesapeake Bay Country" Swepson Earle 

Address before the Charles County Agriculture 
Society (1848) John G. Chapman 

Reports to the Maryland Public Service Commission