Monday, January 28, 2013

The History of Ferry Operations in Ohio County

The History of Ferry Operations in Ohio County

            As everyone knows, the Green River forms the southern and southwestern borders of Ohio County. Across the beautiful Green River, from east to west, our neighbors are Butler County, Muhlenberg County, and McLean County. From the earliest pioneer days, ferries have connected Ohio County with these three neighboring counties. First, as small rafts and boats and later large enough for wagons and vehicles, these ferries carried people and freight to and from markets and towns. Some were open at both ends (called “double-ended”) to make it convenient to load and unload without turning the boat around. If the water crossing was not too deep, some were poled across and this could be difficult, with passengers having to help pole, perhaps, and taking as long as half an hour to get a fairly short distance to the opposite shore, depending on currents and weather conditions. Later, larger craft were first propelled by ropes, chains, and then by cables, usually human-powered.   

Property owners made the most of their locations, and soon capitalized by     building a ferry to save travelers as much as twenty miles, more or less, on their travel routes and charging for each trip across the river. They funneled horses and riders, horse and carriages, wagons, mules, oxen, pack animals, loose animals, and sheep and hogs. Ferries were essential to residents of Ohio County from about 1800 until approximately1950, a span of 150 years. Most of these ferry operations ceased when bridges were built, although the ferry at Rochester (connecting Butler County with Ohio County) is one of ten ferries that continue to operate in the entire state of Kentucky.

            Writing this article was a more complicated project than I had expected. First of all, as most of you know, Ohio County was much larger from 1798 to 1815 than it is now. Part of Ohio County was used in 1810 to make Butler & Grayson Counties. Then a large part was chopped off in 1815 to make Daviess County; finally smaller parts were chopped off in 1829 for Hancock County and in 1854 for McLean County. That means that the Ohio County records from the early days referred to some ferries that operated in areas that are not located within the Ohio County of today. I have tried to disregard the ferries that ended up in other counties. Also, the records are good on names but fall short on location – for example, when a record says, “Smith’s Ferry on Green River” we have no way of knowing where that is –and it could easily be in an area that is not Ohio County today. So, I did the best I could by studying maps and conferring with some smart people who know a lot about Ohio County: Helen McKeown was invaluable; Joyce Coffman and Frank Coffman helped and provided some great photographs; Don Baaso; and my good friend, Janice Brown, whose idea got me interested in this project.

            The following picture is somewhere on the Green River, but not necessarily Ohio County. I’m including it because it is such a beautiful photograph.

Our Ferries
            I will attempt to describe these various ferry operations starting with the easternmost ferry at Cromwell and ending with the ferry at Livermore in the western end of Ohio County.

1.         Cromwell to Butler County

            This was the road to Logansport and Morgantown. The original ferry was called Borah’s Ferry and was operated by the Borah family for at least three generations. It is thought that the Cromwell Ferry started operating in the early 1800’s.  James J. Borah was born Dec 18, 1847, near Borah's Ferry, Butler County. His parents were Willis and Margaret (Austin) Borah. His grandfather, George Borah, a native of Pennsylvania, was an extensive land owner in the county and established and gave his name to the ferry across the Green River, known as Borah's Ferry.  

            On October 27, 1861, Union forces in Owensboro received word of Confederate troop advancements in the Green River area. Shortly after, Union infantry and cavalry units intercepted a Confederate reconnaissance mission in Woodbury. The Union cavalry positioned itself for attack but withdrew to Cromwell's Ferry, fearing Confederate reinforcements.

            Thomas Smith and James Leach, serving in the Cromwell Home Guards, were captured there by the Confederates on New Year's Day 1862, while guarding the Ferry. Thomas Smith lived between Select and Cromwell. They were taken to Maryland and imprisoned.

            On April 2, 1872 a Bond was issued to M. E. Whalin, O. P. Johnson, and John J. Leach for the operation of this ferry.

  July 4, 1908 - Party on Ferry at Cromwell

2. Ohio County to Rochester, Butler County. About 12 miles south of Beaver Dam on Kentucky Rt. 369. This ferry was operated from the Butler County side by various residents of Rochester. On the Ohio County side of the river, the Stahl family, Jacob and later D. M. Stahl, along with various partners (William Berry, H. M. Harris, Quintus Cincinnatus Shanks, W. J. Berry, Joseph A. Hudnall, and William Preston Davenport operated this ferry from 1857 to about 1900. In 1905 a Bond was issued to Cyrus Newton Brown and Wallace M. Brown to operate this ferry, and the next bond issued was in June 1931, issued to Wallace M. Brown, R. W. Brown, and Virgil C. Hocker.

3.         Hopewell to Paradise, Muhlenberg County. The Hopewell Ferry may have been referred to as Graves’ Ferry. This ferry was originally known as Stom’s Ferry and was run by Jacob Stom for more than 40 years starting around 1800. Paradise was an eastern Muhlenberg county town on the Green River about ten miles northeast of Greenville. The town of Paradise lost its last store and post office in 1976 and the community does not exist anymore. The site of Paradise is now occupied by a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired electric plant.  W. H. Rock operated this ferry in 1857, followed by William G Abbott in 1858.  Bubby Short went to Paradise and operated the ferry after leaving the one at Rockport.  Later operators of this ferry were:

8-4-1857 W. H. Rock, H. A. Rock, and W. N. Wand
2-1-1858 W. G. Abbott, Isaac Brown and Shelby A. Jackson
1-1-1859 W. G. Abbott conveys Paradise Ferry to Samuel Shull
1-3-1859 Samuel Shull and Peter Shull
2-6-1860 W. G. Abbott, Levi L. Wise, and Quintus Cincinnatus Shanks
9-3-1883 J. S., W. L., W. T. Brown and Septimus Charles Taylor
9-12-1887 J. L. and Sep Taylor, James W Ford
11-7-1888 J. S., W. L., W. T. Brown, Septimus Charles Taylor
10-5-1891 J. L. and Septimus Taylor, James W Ford.

4.         Rockport to Muhlenberg County. The Rockport Ferry was established by Hugh Thomas Carter in 1817. The Benton family were owners before 1860.  Rockport at that time was known as Benton’s Ferry. In 1867 William and Nancy Jane Benton sold the ferry to A. M. Davis, who in 1870 sold it to John Wallace for the sum of $450.  In February 1872 John Wallace sold it for $1,000 to William Tinsley, aka Captain Tinsley. William and Catherine Tinsley sold the ferry and their residence in 1881 to William A Bell, and moved to Muhlenberg County.  In 1883 Mark Howard purchased it from Bell. On November 28, 1906, Mark Howard sold the ferry to Mr. Addie Austin, who was the owner until the completion of the highway bridge across Green River in 1940.  Mr. Austin sold the ferry and right of way to the Kentucky Department of Highways. The bridge never reached bedrock in its construction.

            Arthur “Bubby” Short, a black man operated the ferry for Mr. Austin.  Another operator was William “Pap” Hendricks.  William Henry Blackburn went on to operate the Rockport Ferry. Other operators were Sam “Punkin” Durham, Lester “Terrapin” Durham, Bert Bennett, Lacy Blackburn, Don Everly, and Mose Short, a one armed man and brother of Bubby.  Eddie Crunk was ferryman in 1939.  Chester Williams was operator of the ferry from 1932-1940 when it ceased operations.  Fare was 50 cents for a wagon and team or car, and 5 cents for a preacher’s wagon and team or car.  

5.         Ceralvo to Muhlenberg County. This was the old road to Greenville and the first ferry was operated by Richard Morton and was first licensed in 1800. In 1866 William Graves deeded it to Ezekiel Vanlandingham Kimbley, who paid extra for ferry rights, and a deed was made to Kimbley from J. F. Jones, for ferry privileges on the Muhlenberg County side of the river. The ferryman in 1880 was A. G. Rutledge.

In 1891 Wesley Dent Barnard was bonded to operate the Ceralvo Ferry. Others were John Chancellor, Clarence Morris, Harry Barnes, and in 1925, William Henry “Butch” Blackburn.  In the late 1930’s Lawrence Whobrey was the last person to operate the Ceralvo Ferry.

6.         The Kronos – Smallhaus area (Kinchloe Bluff Road) to South Carrollton, Muhlenberg County. This ferry was first operated by John Fentress starting about 1813. He and his wife, Nellie, lived in South Carrollton on the bluff right above the road that leads down to the ferry. Later, this ferry was operated by Ewell Hibbs. Also, in the minutes of the County Court there is an entry in 1801 referring to a ferry known as Col. Kincheloe’s Ferry across the Green River, and today there is a road named Kincheloe Bluff, so that ferry probably operated in this same area as early as 1801. The Kincheloes were pioneers in Muhlenberg County and it is thought that the Kincheloe Ferry was owned by Lewis Kincheloe, who lived at Kincheloe’s Bluff.  The South Carrollton Ferry was referred to as Shrewsbury’s Ferry.  The 1924 ferry license was to Charles A. Liter, J. S. Taylor, S. P. James and Henry Guy Barnard.

(Note misspelling of Muhlenberg on map)         

7. Point Pleasant/Matanzas to McLean County (Island, originally called Humphrey’s Landing). Once run by the Condit family. Court Minutes: “August 1807. On a motion by Byram Condit ordered a ferry be established across Green River nearly opposite Cornwall’s Landing on the lands of said Condit.  Whereupon the said Condit together with Uzal Condit entered into bond in the penalty of 20 L conditioned as the law directs.  Ordered that John D Coffee and Bryam Condit may receive four pence 1/2 for the ferryage of a man and horse over their ferry.”

            On August 17, 1816 Bryam Condit drowned in the Green River while operating his ferry. His wife was Mary Lindley, so the ferry was next operated by the Lindley family until about 1932 and later by Samuel James and his family, and next by Robert Hoskins. One of the last operator’s of this ferry was Oscar B. Kirtley and, of course, the ferry was then called Kirtley’s Ferry. Robert Hoskins last operated the ferry prior to the bridge being built and the charge was $1.  An oddity was a deer that periodically rode the Hoskins ferry.

This is the Kirtley Ferry headed towards Ohio County, with the Kirtley home in the background. This was probably made in the 1960’s. Photo from Frank Coffman.

The following is an article in the local newspaper about this ferry.

Hartford Herald, November 1, 1876
From Point Pleasant.  Oct. 25, 1876.
            On last Sunday a party of four, two Miss Barnards, a Mr. Linley and a Mr. Bennett, returning from the Calhoon (sic) fair, met with a serious accident in attempting to cross Green river at this place.
            They were all in a two-horse spring wagon, with two mules to it. They
all remained on their seats when driving in the ferry boat, and the chain not being made secure to the stake on the bank, when the mules got their fore feet on the boat, it pushed from the bank taking mules, wagon and people all into the river.
            When Jemmie Bennett found that all were in the water, he told the girls to sit still and he jumped from his seat.
            Taking the first girl from her seat he passed her out to Warren Lindley, who had by that time jumped from the wagon, ready to assist in rescuing the girls from their present danger. By time Jemmie had disposed of the first charge, the other was some distance in the water, but he being a good swimmer and a valiant young man rescued her and carried her safely to shore. When he had had the pleasure of seeing the girls both safe on land, he disposed of his coats and gloves, and went to the assistance of his poor mules that were likely to be drowned, and also succeeded in saving them.
            Mr. Bennett is a son of Rev. W. P. Bennett, and we think he is entitled to a great deal of credit for his presence of mind, and his good management in time of great danger. While we applaud Mr. Bennett for his valiant conduct, we will advise him and all others to walk rather than ride into Green river.

8.         Ohio County to Livermore, McLean County. This is where the Rough River connects with the Green River and I suspect there were several different ferries that operated out of Livermore going to different shores.  The town of Livermore was formally started in 1837 although early settlers lived there before that (originally called Brown’s Landing). In 1902 the operators were John Hazelip and J. C. Noble. Erskin Fulkerson bought this ferry in 1922. The Livermore Ferry was last operated by Roy and John Coffman.

(Note misspelling of McLean on map)

     Note: The little tip of land to the left of the ferryboat, sort of under the center of the bridge, is the ferry landing spot in Ohio County. This photo was shot from Livermore and was provided by Frank Coffman.

            The photograph above was shot from the bank of the Rough River looking towards the landing point in Ohio County. The handwriting says, “Livermore and Calhoun Mail Line.” Also from Frank Coffman.

Roy Coffman in 1959

Roy Coffman and daughters, Dona Jean (Jinks) and Joyce

Hartford Republican, 28 February 1902.  MURDER AT LIVERMORE.  
            “Denzel Moore Murdered and Robbed on a Shanty Boat, Murderer Unknown.             The citizens of Livermore were shocked Tuesday morning by finding the dead body of Denzel Moore, on a shanty boat moored just above town, to the Ohio county bank.  The body was discovered about 9 o’clock Tuesday morning by the ferrymen, John Hazelip and J C Noble, lying upon the floor of the shanty boat in a great pool of blood, with a bullet hole through his head.
            The officers of the town of Livermore immediately took charge of the body and the Police Judge held an inquest over his body, which resulted in a verdict that Moore came to his death by a pistol shot fired from the hand of a party unknown.
            Moore was about 50 years old and had been a barber at Livermore for some years.  About 2 months ago he bought a shanty boat and engaged in the blind tiger business.  (A blind tiger establishment illegally sells alcoholic beverages.  The term originated with places that charged to see an attraction such as an animal then served a ‘complimentary’ beverage.) Moore had been a good citizen, well liked by the people of Livermore, but when he went to selling whisky, his wife so disapproved of his engaging in the business that they had not been living together since, however, he gave her an allowance of $10.00 a week for the maintenance of herself and child.
            About 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, people living in the immediate vicinity of Moore’s boat, heard the report of a pistol and as his body was stiff when found, it is supposed that he was murdered at this time.  From the circumstances in which the body was found it is believed that the murderer called on Moore for a bottle of whisky and while he was in a stooping position drawing it, shot him in the back of the head, the ball coming out near his right eye.
            The purpose of the murder was evidently robbery, as Moore’s pockets were turned wrong side out, but it is not thought that the murderer got much pay for his awful crime. There is no clue to the perpetrator of the fearful crime.”  (Other papers reported his name as Damsel Owen)


9.         Ferries within Ohio County borders.

            Note: In early Court minutes and newspaper articles Rough River was often referred to as Rough Creek and the name was officially changed to Rough River by the legislature in 1884.

            There were also ferries that operated within the borders of Ohio County. Two crossed the Rough River at the City of Hartford; one ferry was operated from the end of Market Street (now Main Street) in 1816, and a second ferry called the Thomas Moseley Ferry that operated from the end of what is now McCreary Court as early as 1819. In 1801 a Bond was issued to Charles Wallace to operate a ferry over Rough Creek, on the road from Hartford to Yellow Bank (Owensboro). Another ferry that operated in the early 1800’s across the Rough River was Hinton’s Ferry (later Carter’s Ferry), between Livermore and Hartford, near Walton’s Creek. In 1801 Stephen Cleaver was issued a Bond to operate a ferry across Rough Creek on the road from Hartford to Breckenridge County – this was probably near Dundee.

            There was also a ferry that crossed Caney Creek. In 1867 a Bond was issued to Mark H. Kuykendall, W. W. Miller and Ben Duvall to operate this ferry.

            It’s worth noting that in the northwest part of Ohio County there is a road named Harmon’s Ferry Road (County Road 2668). This is not near the Green or Rough River but there is a stream in the area called the North Fork of Barnett’s Creek.  I have not found any information about Harmon’s Ferry except it is mentioned as a reference point in the legislation enacted in 1854 that established McLean County from parts of Ohio, Muhlenberg and Daviess counties; however, keep in mind that there was a community called Barnett’s Ferry, located west of Hartford, so there had to be a ferry operation at Barnett’s Creek.

            While the ferry pictured below did not go to any port in Ohio County (it is a ferry at Morgantown and that location is several miles from the Ohio County line) it does give us a good idea what ferries on the Green River looked like in the early and mid-1900’s.

                The following information and personal story was passed along to me in the course of compiling this article on ferryboats, and I hope the young people reading this will see the value of talking to their parents and grandparents, or telling their own stories to pass along to their children. All of these events, family tales, and personal accounts are worth writing about and passing along. Sadly, I failed to have these conversations with my grandparents and I regret it very much. So much of our history is lost forever because so few people take the time to have those conversations or to write it down and share it with others.

                John Franklin Coffman, born 1798, was a second generation settler from a 4000 acre land grant near Sacramento, McLean County, Kentucky (the original name of this community was Cross Roads). Sacramento is about eleven miles southwest of Livermore. John Franklin Coffman’s sons were James Buchanan Coffman and Alfred Taylor Coffman, both of whom lived in the Livermore area.

               John Franklin's first son, James Buchanan, had eight children, including a son, Roy, the last ferry boat operator at Livermore.  Roy Coffman had two daughters, Dona and Joyce.

                John's second son, Alfred Taylor, had a son, Francis Oliver, and eleven other children.  Francis Oliver founded the community of Coffman, the post office, the general store and the school, and was a 20% owner in the Green River Mining and Manufacturing Company, which mined coal in the town.  Unfortunately, they could not compete with just discovered shallow stripped coal just east of Evansville, Indiana, and closed down around 1912.  From there the town evaporated, and most folks moved to Livermore, including Francis Oliver.  One of Francis Oliver’s children was a son, Decosta Quay Coffman, who is the father of Frank Coffman. Another child of Francis Oliver was a son, Archie Lee, who had a daughter named Helen Fay, born about 1915.
               Helen Fay Coffman (Baaso) wrote about her memories of a summer trip 
from Detroit to visit her grandfather, Francis Oliver Coffman, inLivermore, when she 
was 11 years old. 

               “In the summer of 1926 I was put on a train with
 my name around my neck, and sent to spend the summer in
  Kentucky. I had to transfer in Louisville. A traveler’s
  aid met me and saw that I got on the right train. My 
grandfather’s house was next to the depot, in Livermore.
 One day, I was riding an old horse, and when the train
   whistle blew, he flew. I can still recall the old 
  outhouse and its Sears catalog when I hear flies
 buzzing on a still hot day. I learned to cane chairs
 that summer.That’s what most of the people did for a
 living. One time, I wanted something from the store. 
My granddad gave me some eggs, and sent me to the store
 to trade. He kept milk and eggs in a well to keep them
 cool. The sidewalks were made of wood. Later, I was taken
 by horse and buggy to Jimtown where I was born. To get
 there we had to cross a river. My grandfather had to 
haul, via cable, a ferry from the other bank. I was left
 in the country for a time. I swung across big ravines
 on grapevines, and rode mules around. One aunt sent me
 out to pick blackberries  and made a delicious cobbler. 
Her son, Maxwell, was mean and bad. (I could say more - but)
 He was always trying to embarrass me. When it was time for
 me to go back to Livermore, they just put me on a horse, 
with my suitcase over the saddle horn, told me to follow 
the road to the  river, ring the bell and the ferryman 
would take me across into Livermore. (This was a different
 route than  we had taken to go to Jimtown.) When it came
 time to return to Detroit, I took two baby chicks in a
 shredded wheat box back with me.”

               NOTE: Helen visited the James Buchanan Coffman home in Jimtown, which was two 
miles up the Green River from the Livermore Ferry. Some researchers spell James Buchanan as 
James Buchanon.


  1. Is Cromwell Ferry and Borah's Ferry the same ferry or are they 2 different ferries?

  2. In my opinion they are the same. There might have been competing ferries at the same spot on the river that were operated by different men - perhaps they operated at different times of day or on different days. All of that is a guess on my part. There is a lot of info in the library at Hartford and this subject could be researched by someone.