A piece of American history unique to central Virginia is up and running for the season. The Hatton Ferry opened this weekend to shuttle people and their vehicles across the James River. It is the last hand-operated ferry in the country.
The state's financial troubles nearly turned it into a relic a few years ago. Now, the ferry is relying on community support to continue crossing the James between Albemarle and Buckingham counties.
Captain Craig McPherson runs the Hatton Ferry just outside the town of Scottsville.
“This is a great part of American history, and we're very fortunate to have this still here,” he said.
The ferry has been operating since the 1800’s when it was once the main mode of transportation across the James River.
“There were at one time, at the end of the 1700’s, 144 such ferries on the Virginia river system,” McPherson said.
On Sunday, Captain McPherson had the opportunity to introduce the ferry's history to some curious visitors from Europe.
“We travel a lot and it's really the first time I see something still,” said Jacqueline Macek who was visiting the ferry. “I knew it operated this way, but this is very fantastic to be able still to take a ride over the river.”
The ferry runs by a pulley system that angles it against the current, which pushes it across the river in about five minutes.
It can carry quite a bit of weight. McPherson says he once ferried 11 motorcycles across the river.
“You're talking 11,000 pounds, close to six tons, and I could have put one more on here, so it does take a pretty good load,” he said.
A tight budget forced the Virginia Department of Transportation to drop the ferry's operation a few years back. Now it's run by the Albemarle and Buckingham historical societies, and relies on donations.
McPherson says insurance costs make it tough to keep going.
“We need donations. Insurance goes up every year, and we have to cover that in order to operate.”
But while it's running, visitors will continue to enjoy this unique piece of central Virginia's past.
“It's magic, we had a good time on it,” Macek said.
The ferry will be open every weekend through October 26. To find a schedule of times or for donation information, click here.
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