2011-10-13 / Editorial

Scattering Seeds

BY JOHN A. MURPHY jamurphy@jamestownlawyer.com

I have never met a person who had the good fortune to live here when the ferries were operating who doesn’t have powerful recollections of, and great affection for them. The ferry service, started in the 18th century, operated right up to the day of the opening of the Newport (now Pell) Bridge, in 1969. That was a huge change day for Jamestown.

The Murphys (eight of us) loved riding the ferries, particularly the Governor Carr, the most luxurious of them all. Ten cents: what a bargain! We had many relatives in Newport, and used the ferry often to visit them.

As the ferry entered its slip, sliding hard along the pilings on each side, making a loud groaning, scraping noise, my father always winced, and said to us kids, “ooohh, my thumb!”

There were days when the helmsman (never a woman), either due to weather conditions or a momentary miscalculation, bounced the ferry hard off the steel landing platform, and had to try again. The securing of the ferry to the landing platform was a ballet one never tired of watching.

I hope that somewhere someone has a video of the ferry coming into its slip, and that video finds its way into the Jamestown Historical Society collection. There is a rumor that a movie contains a scene of a car entering the ferry. Information on this would be gratefully received.

The Jamestown students who commuted on the ferries to schools in Newport, of course, got to know the ferries extremely well.

There were waiting rooms at the Jamestown and Newport terminals; the one in Newport was, as I recollect, notably foul; the bathroom effluents dropped directly into the bay. When the ferry arrived at the terminal, a loud whistle was sounded. If you were not at the landing area, the sound of that whistle told you to hustle down to the pier to catch the ferry. Missing the last ferry meant a long night in the waiting room, or an expensive cab ride through Providence!

The ferries always kept an ambitious schedule, and rarely deviated from it. Ice hardly ever interfered, at least in the 20th century. Old timers who worked on or around the ferry talked about “green water coming over the bow” on heavy weather days.

During jazz and folk festival times, the vehicle waiting area provided the most exotic sights that most Jamestowners ever saw. We kids would sit down at the landing area, transfixed by the interesting crowds of people and cars gathered there in huge numbers as they waited for the ferry. A real party atmosphere prevailed on many occasions.

I keep a blown-up reproduction of the ferry ticket hanging in my office, and think often of what a great experience that little ticket provided.

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