When ferries crossed the Delaware River
August 08 , 2015 Filed in: Transportation
Dimmick’s Ferry in 1933, with owner and ferryman Peter M. Dimmick standing at the front left of the scow.
Standing on the shore is Horace G. Walters with his son, Ronald, playing at the water’s edge.
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
The Delaware River is an important natural feature that delineates part of the border between New York and Pennsylvania and the entire border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This important waterway provides not only drinking water for many surrounding communities but also numerous recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors to the area.
Years ago, the Delaware River served as a major mode of transportation for goods to be sent from Monroe County south to markets in Easton and Philadelphia. In our area, the most common commercial items floated downriver were logs for the timber industry. While the river provided an important artery of commerce between northern and southern Pennsylvania, it was seen as a frustrating barrier for many individuals who needed to cross state lines from west to east or east to west. Crossing such a river has always been a difficult task.
Bridges have always been expensive to build and to maintain. Because of this, the principal manner of crossing the Delaware from the late 1700s to the early 1900s was ferry boat. Several ferries crossed the river in our area, providing much-needed passageways between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Ferries were large flat-bottomed wooden barges called scows; the term scow comes from the Dutch word meaning “ferryboat.” Ferries were hand-operated and had to be located at convenient places along the river where the water ran calmly. Heavy chains, cables, or even ropes were strung across the Delaware River and attached to large pulleys onshore and on both the fore and aft of the scow. The ferry operator would wind the appropriate line around a large wooden winch called a windlass or “woodlass” to pull the ferry through the water in the intended direction.
As the ferry neared shore, the ferryman used a long wooden pole to help guide the scow and ensure that it reached the exact landing site. Once the scow was situated at its appropriate landing site, the ferryman would lay long wooden planks on shore so passengers could reach dry land safely when exiting the scow. It was the ferryman’s responsibility to keep the scow as stationary as possible while the passengers exited the vessel.
In Monroe County, six ferries transported people, cars, horses, wagons, and/or cargo across the Delaware River. Four ferries were located in Smithfield Township, and two ferries were located in Middle Smithfield Township.
The southernmost ferry that operated in Monroe County was Transue’s Ferry, located in Smithfield Township between Delaware Water Gap and Shawnee-on-Delaware. It was built by Adam Transue in 1882.
Traveling northward along the river, the next ferry was the Shawnee Ferry which provided transportation across the river at DePue Island. The ferry was known by many names, including Shoemaker’s Ferry, Brotzman’s Ferry, and Walker’s Ferry. In 1903, C.C. Worthington, owner of the Buckwood Inn, now Shawnee Inn, purchased the ferry and a large tract of land on the New Jersey side of the rRiver, where he established a preserve.
Daniel Labar’s Ferry was privately-owned, and located about two miles north of the village of Shawnee. The ferry operated at about the location of present-day Hialeah Picnic Area in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Shoemaker’s Ferry was also located in Smithfield Township, about one-half mile above Tocks Island. Daniel Shoemaker built this ferry in 1812 and later sold it to the Lutz family. “Lutz’s Ferry” operated for some time before the family sold the business to the Zimmerman family. Zimmerman operated a boarding house on the New Jersey side of the river that was serviced by the ferry. In 1927, the ferry operations ended when the property was sold to PPL.
Dimmick’s Ferry ran between Middle Smithfield Township, Pa. and Pahaquarry Township in New Jersey. The Shoemaker family ran this ferry from the early 1800s until it was sold in 1874 to W.L. Fisher, who renamed it Fisher’s Ferry. After seven years, Fisher sold the ferry as well as all of its adjoining lands and buildings to Michael H. Dimmick. The property consisted of a main residence (once used as a hotel for rafters who floated logs down the river), a large barn, an ice house, a blacksmith shop, and a chicken coop located on 100 acres of farmland.
Michael H. Dimmick ran the ferry until in was taken over by his son, Peter, who operated it until his death in 1937 while operating his ferry. As his obituary reported, Peter died suddenly “as he talked with a friend while crossing the river.” With his passing, so, too, passed the age of ferries in this section of the Delaware River. In 1939, the property was sold at auction for $4,500 to Earnest Olselwsky.
The fee to cross Dimmick’s Ferry in the 1920s and 1930s was 25 cents per vehicle, and a scow could hold two cars comfortably.
Decker’s Ferry was the northernmost ferry located within Monroe County’s boundary. It was located along a bend in the Delaware River south of Bushkill, and transported people and goods between the Walpack Point and Flatbrookville, N.J.
Built by Daniel Decker in 1756, it is reported that this ferry had even transported soldiers during Gen. John Sullivan’s 1779 march against the Iroquois Nation. The soldiers, led by Col. Philip Van Corlandt, came from Port Jervis, N.Y., and camped at Decker’s Ferry for three days. The men eventually crossed the Delaware River, marched past Fort DePui in Shawnee, and traveled to Fort Penn in Stroudsburg. From Stroudsburg, the soldiers moved northward to cut down the Pennsylvania forests in order to build a road for Sullivan’s men to march upon.
Over the span of 200 years, there were six locations for individuals to cross the Delaware River in Monroe County. Today there is only one — the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge along Interstate 80.