The ferries that went before

Baltimore Glimpses

November 06, 1990|By GILBERT SANDLER

THERE IS a new and lovely way to get across (and to see and enjoy) the Inner Harbor these days -- "water taxi" ferries. From the quay near the USF Constellation, one service takes you across the harbor to Fells Point, Harrison's Wharf, the Aquarium, Science Center, Museum of Industry and several other popular stops; another, to the Bay Cafe at Tindeco Wharf, stopping off at Fells Point. A lot of people taking these ferries are heard to exclaim something like, "Great idea! Why didn't somebody think of this before?" Somebody did -- at least twice. Within the memory of older Baltimoreans, these are the third and fourth across-the-harbor ferry services.

The first service ran up to 1938 (it seems to have had its origins back in the early 1800s!) and operated from Fells Point (up until a few years go known as "The Foot of Broadway") to Locust Point. It docked at the foot of Haubert Street and ferried as many as 400 people a day who took the "Locust Point Ferry" ("Howard W. Jackson," "Samuel Taggert," "S.W. Smith") so as to beat the long ride around the harbor and down through Key Highway to Fort Avenue. Fare was 3 cents for children, 7 cents for adults; cars were 22 cents.

The ferry was discontinued despite the strong objections of the Polish families living in Locust Point. They made the argument that they needed the ferry to get their kids over to the Polish schools in East Baltimore because there were no schools for them in Locust Point. They lost the argument. The last run was Dec. 31, 1938.

A second ferry run started sometime in the early 1940s, running from the foot of Broadway to the Fairfield-Curtis Bay shipyards, in response to the needs of the so-called "war-workers" coming to and from their shifts (the "Liberty Belle," `"Dixie," "State of Pennsylvania"). The passengers patronizing these ferries had converted them into their own private pleasure clubs, making them more like floating casinos. An observer noted of life aboard the "Dixie": "The Dixie's three broad decks have lost most of their glamour since these overalled workmen have swarmed over them, shooting dice and playing poker." He said it appeared that the craps games were the same ones continued day to day by the same players. One of the favorite places for craps shooting seemed to be the roof of the pilot house. On one occasion, a visitor, standing in the pilot house, heard a pattering on the roof and asked the captain what the noise was. The captain reasoned, "Well, they ain't birds dancin' up there!" The ferry service was discontinued in the late 1940s as the shipyards moved their production from wartime to peace.

Now in 1990 there are third and a fourth ferry services, carrying another generation of visitors and perhaps some workers across these same waters.

There are some differences. First, the fares on those ferries in the 1930s and 1940s were in the pennies; these later ones are in the dollars. And second, as for gambling aboard, forget it; you can't buy so much as a lottery ticket.

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