The way over the bay, be­fore the bridge

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen THEN AND NOW fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s re­cent pro­posal for an­other Bay Bridge cross­ing has kicked up the usual and pre­dictable con­tro­versy about cost and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, but there is an al­ter­na­tive.

How about a re­turn to a sys­tem of car-car­ry­ing fer­ries as well as high-speed pas­sen­ger-only fer­ries on var­i­ous routes across the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay?

Or restor­ing rail pas­sen­ger ser­vice on the Del­marva Penin­sula, which van­ished more than 50 years ago?

Fer­ries, which be­gan op­er­at­ing on the bay dur­ing Colo­nial days. were first rowed or powered by sail, then steam and, later, diesel en­gines.

By the mid­dle of the 18th cen­tury, it was pos­si­ble for trav­el­ers head­ing north or south to take a bone-shak­ing pas­sage by coach and ferry from Elk­ton down the breadth of the Eastern Shore to An­napo­lis, Wil­liams­burg, Va., and Rich­mond, Va.

The jour­ney was of­ten made over rut­ted roads made worse by win­ter snows and spring rains.

In ad­di­tion to the im­por­tance of the bay as a vi­tal com­mer­cial artery, “rivers and creeks re­mained the highway of the tide­wa­ter re­gion, and fer­ries con­tin­ued to op­er­ate un­til the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury when road in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­oped over the area,” wrote Clara Ann Sim­mons in “Ch­e­sa­peake Fer­ries: A Wa­ter­borne Tra­di­tion 1636-2000.”

The death knell for the bay’s fer­ries came five months af­ter the Bay Bridge opened to traf­fic in 1952.

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