On January 16, WMAR 2 News reported that a study is now underway to see if a Chesapeake Bay Passenger Ferry can become a reality. The hope is to set up “a sustainable passenger ferry service connecting key destinations along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, including Annapolis, Galesville, Chesapeake Beach, Solomons, St. Mary’s City, Leonardtown, Crisfield, Cambridge, St. Michaels, Easton, Kent Narrows, Rock Hall, Chestertown, Chesapeake City, North East, Havre de Grace, and Baltimore.”
In the 1800s and early 1900s, boat travel like this was common. Passengers and goods travelled between Chesapeake Bay locations daily.
In the 1800s though, a trip like that wasn’t as simple. Cars weren’t invented yet and taking a horse and/or buggy would be a long uncomfortable trip. Luckily, Cecil County is blessed with five rivers that served as the highways of that time period. Steamboats were used to transport goods as well as people, and the inventor of the steamboat, James Rumsey, lived on the Bohemia River until the time of his death in 1792.
One of the first steamboats to travel through Cecil County was the Eagle. It was built in 1813 in Philadelphia in 1813. The Eagle first arrived in Cecil County in 1815. It would transport passengers from Baltimore to Head of Elk (Elkton), then catch a stage coach from Elkton to Wilmington, DE. The small village of Frenchtown, south of Elkton had its first commercial steam vessel, the Chesapeake, begin service in 1813. It ran between Frenchtown and Baltimore as the Union Line.
Cecil Whig issues of the 1850s through the early 1900s contain numerous advertisements for these steamer ships.
The Lady Wilmer was advertised that “for freight or passage it had handsome accommodations” in the October 3, 1857 edition of the Cecil Whig. Captain William Wilson would sail between Port Deposit, Havre de Grace, and Georgetown on the Sassafras and Elk Rivers.
The Baltimore and Susquehanna Steam Company announced its regular daily line (except Sundays) for “Havre de Grace, Port Deposit, and Tide Water Canal” (in Havre de Grace). The steamboat Portsmouth, with its captain Joseph Geoghegan, would leave “West Falls Avenue in Baltimore every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening at 6 o’clock. Returning leaves Port Deposit every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3 o’clock and Havre de Grace at 6 o’clock.” Passage on the Portsmouth was 50 cents. The advertisement also promised that freight would be accepted in Baltimore and Port Deposit and would be “carefully tended to”.
In that same issue, and advertisement for the Steamer Cecil listed its schedule. It would leave “Georgetown at 1 o’clock on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for Havre de Grace, touching various landings on the Sassafras River”. The fare was 50 cents, and the captain of the boat was E.G. Sturgeon. The steamer Port Deposit announced it had been “thoroughly overhauled by C. Reeder and was resuming its regular trips between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace.
Another steam ship, the Gipsy, advertised to “Drovers and Travelers” that it would be running regularly between Port Deposit and Bell’s Ferry (Lapidum). The advertisement bragged that “Drovers, farmers, travelers, and the public alike will find her at all times ready to convey them and their property to and from the above points. Travelers and Drovers will find ample accommodations for themselves and stock at the new hotel at Bell’s Ferry”.
In the 1860s, steamers such as the John F. Rodman ran between Port Deposit, Havre de Grace, and Bell’s Ferry daily. The ship connected with a stage that would transport passengers to Darlington every day. According to the advertisement in the January 16, 1864 issue of the Cecil Whig, travelers could connect to a stage coach that would take people to Rising Sun, Oxford, and the Philadelphia Central Railroad from Port Deposit. In March of that same year a new steamer, called the General Grant, was advertised. Mr. D. Vanneman had ordered it to be built by Armstrong & Son of Baltimore. It would travel between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace. In April, Mr. Vanneman advertised another of his steam ships, the Port Deposit. This boat would also travel between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace and connect with the mail trains from Philadelphia and connect with the trains that left Havre de Grace before 7 pm.
In the early 1900s, transportation went through many changes. The railroad began moving goods from one place to another, and passengers starting using that new-fangled invention – the automobile. There were still some people who preferred the peaceful, easy ride on a steamboat. One of the most well-known steamships of the time was the Ericsson Line’s Carmania.
The 1916 Cecil Whig advertisements for this steamer proclaimed it the “Palatial Steamer Carmania”. Betterton was dubbed “The Great Chesapeake Bay Resort” and trips from Elkton to Betterton included “fine bathing, boating, fishing, music and dance, and no sharks!” Travelers would leave Elkton at 9 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The boat would depart Betterton at 4 pm. When in Elkton, the ship would dock in the Big Elk Creek near Bridge Street and Radnor Mills and Scott’s fertilizer plant.
As more modern forms of transportation arrived, and the rivers of Cecil County changed, steamers ended their heyday. The Big Elk Creek silted in, and the Susquehanna River changed after the Conowingo Dam was built. Large boats could no longer travel in these bodies of water so the steam boat era ended.
Anne Arundel County tourism leaders put out a request for proposals earlier this month. It’s only the first step in a long process to connect the towns along the bay.
Will it happen? Who knows! Marylanders will just have to stay tuned!
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