On White's Ferry, a short Potomac voyage

The ferry runs all year, except in bad weather


August 11, 2005|By Ann Sagi Ward | Ann Sagi Ward,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

White's Ferry is the only vehicle to ferry vehicles across the Potomac River. The 24-car vessel, operating about six miles west of Poolesville in Montgomery County, is the sole survivor of about 100 ferries that crossed the river in the 19th century.

The business began about 1828 at a site known as Conrad's Ferry. According to a history of the ferry on Poolesville's Web site, Earnest Conrad charged 6 1/4 cents per man, horse or mule; 3 cents per head of cattle; and 6 1/4 cents a wheel for riding carriages on a one-way trip across the narrow passage.

Elihjah Veirs White, an attorney and sheriff in Loudon County, Va., bought the ferry after the Civil War. It became known as E.V. White's "Landing at White's Ferry" in 1871 when the minutes of the Loudon Court dropped the name Conrad.

The rope that guided the boat was replaced by a metal cable the next year, an upgrade that was noted in a newspaper ad in the Leesburg, Va., Washingtonian as a "Grand Success."

The next ferryman, William Rollinson, was followed by Charles Rollinson, who ran the business until 1918. Two years later, ferry owner Charles Ashby Williams put a Model T gasoline engine in a rowboat beside a new skiff he had built in 1919.

The Williams family ran the ferry until a flood in 1942 destroyed its wooden barge. Four years later, Edwin Brown of Poolesville bought the defunct business and used a wooden Army surplus barge that could hold three cars.

In 1953, he replaced the wooden barge with a six-car steel barge built in Baltimore and powered for a while by a jet engine. His son, Malcolm Brown, took over in 1972.

He bought a 15-car ferry to accommodate demand in 1988, then expanded with the 24-car vessel that is named after Confederate Civil War Gen. Jubal A. Early.

The vessel carries about 350 commuters during the week, said Rachel Flury, manager of the White's Ferry store and cafe, which is open from May to October. Tourists push the number of vehicles higher on weekends.

"Over Memorial Day weekend, we had 124 cars backed up. They waited an hour and a half to cross. We had to put on an extra person," Flury said. "That was nuts."

Since Memorial Day, business has been "great. Very good. The weather has been very kind. As long as the weather is good, we're good," she said.

The store has been the victim of bad weather: Three lines painted on the front of the building indicate high-water marks, including one from June 24, 1972, courtesy of Tropical Storm Agnes, near the roof line.

The one-way, five-minute trip costs $3 a car; a round trip costs $5. The ferry runs continuously from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. year-round, except in bad weather.

Steve "Captain Beau" Boger, ferryman for more than three years, said, "We keep running until the water gets high. When we hit 11.6 feet, we shut down."

White's Ferry rents picnic tables with grills ($2), and canoes and rowboats ($7.50 an hour or $25 a day).

What to see

Other area attractions include: The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which parallels the river, offers hiking, biking and camping. Portions of the canal are south and west of Poolesville.

The John Poole house is behind Town Hall in Poolesville. The original part of the building, John Poole's log store, was built in 1793.

Seneca Schoolhouse Museum, five miles south of Poolesville, is an 1866 one-room school.

Sugarloaf Mountain, eight miles north of Poolesville, contains more than 3,000 acres of wooded parkland.

Where to eat

White's Ferry Cafe. Breakfast, cold sandwiches, hot food.

Bassett's, (19950 Fisher Ave., Poolesville, 301-972-7443). Steaks, seafood, pasta.

Getting there

Interstate 70 west to Exit 62, Route 75 south to Route 355 south onto Route 109 to Poolesville, Route 107 to White's Ferry.


White's Ferry, 301-349-5200; www.historicwhitesferry.com; www.poolesville.com.

For more regional trips, see Page 33.

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