Still another ferry gives way to still another bridge

Baltimore Glimpses

April 05, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

PRIOR to the opening of the Delaware Memorial Bridge on Aug. 14, 1951, Baltimoreans drove to New York via old Route 40 (Old Philadelphia Road) through Elkton and into Delaware. (Those were the days when highways actually went through towns -- like Aberdeen, Md., and Glasgow and Bear, Del.) At New Castle, Del., motorists had to wait for the ferry across the Delaware River to Pennsville on the New Jersey side. Then it was north to the Big Apple.

But as was the case with so many ferries, there simply got to be too many cars. Two- and three-hour delays were common, and on holiday weekends the ferries were nightmares. A bridge had to be built, just as one was needed across the Chesapeake to the south. In this case it was the Delaware Memorial Bridge, built a few miles north of the Pennsville ferry.

The Washington, the last ferry to leave the Delaware side the night before the bridge opening, was at capacity at 11 p.m. At the ramp, Jesse Walling, New Castle chief of police, looked at the four-mile backup and shouted, "We can't take any more!" An observer reported that the pronouncement brought "profanity and screaming" from the crowd.

The Washington let go its lines. Captain James Guillo gave a hearty tug on the ship's foghorn, a lonely wail of farewell. The ferry eased out of its slip, churning the dark waters and widening the distance between the stern rail and those left waiting on shore. In the wheelhouse, the captain told a reporter, "There must have been 10,000 people here tonight. We just couldn't take them all. Well, things are certainly going to be different from here on out."

The captain picked up his log book. "I'm going to keep this," he said, "in memory of the New Castle-Pennsville ferries and all the people who used them to get to and from New York." He fixed his attention across the water at what was then the sixth largest span in the world, the Delaware Memorial Bridge, silhouetted against the orange glow of Wilmington.

In 15 minutes the Washington was tucked in its slip in Pennsville. The creaking pylons sang a dirge for the end of an era. It was 11:20.

The next morning there was a ceremony on the bridge, midway between Delaware and New Jersey. At 10:41 a.m., the governors of both state shook hands across a ribbon. They cut it simultaneously, while the 287th Army Band of the Delaware National Guard played (unaccountably) "The Syncopated Clock." With that snip, the governors opened a new route and a new day. It was goodbye forever to all the hours of waiting to board the New Castle-Pennsville ferry to (and from) New York.

Today, when you drive to New York, you race out I-95, crossing the Susquehanna into Cecil County, then into Delaware and across the bridge (a three-minute trip), eventually finding the scenic Jersey Turnpike. In another two hours or so you're in New York, if there isn't a delay on the turnpike or at the bridge or tunnel into Manhattan.

Today, the bridge has a second span. Promises to drop the toll when it was paid for went by the boards, as they always seem to with toll roads and bridges. It costs $2 to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge, but only westbound.

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