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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Primitive Ferry: 1907

Primitive Ferry: 1907

Circa 1907. "Primitive ferry, High Bridge, Kentucky River." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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It Carried Cars, Too.

The book "First Highways of America" contains a picture of this same ferry carrying two cars. In theory one of those could have been driven by my great-grandparents as they crossed on the ferry in 1920 during a trip to Florida. Fare was apparently set by vehicle size. They paid 50 cents for their Model T and their friends in an Overland paid 75 cents. Granny reported that High Bridge was their "first bit of sight seeing worth while" and that the men made it all the way "down a stairs of nearly 300 steps" but the women stopped short of the bottom.

Educational value of Shorpy

Shorpy never ceases to amaze me. I was one of the early posters to this thread questioning how the ferry was propelled. Stevendm supplied the answer I was looking for.

Armed with the info from Steven I did some research on the web and found out that this type of ferry is called a reaction ferry.

The rope either below or above the water provides the opposing force for the rudder to do its job.

Underwater Rope

I have heard of ferries like this. There is an underwater rope that the boat is guided by. The man standing at the right in the boat is holding a tiller that turns a rudder underneath the ferry. This tiller is in line with the flow of the river, not with the axis of the ferry. The movement of the water across the tiller pushes the ferry from one bank to another, turn the tiller one way and you move to one bank, turn it the other way and you go to the other bank. Simple but effective.

The rope should not foul the other boats if they are like the ones shown. They have a very shallow draft and would float right over the rope. Remember, the rope is probably not very taut and will drop down in the water when not close by land or the ferry.


Several years ago, I was in Charlevoix, Michigan. They had (may still have) a ferry there that could carry one or two cars across a narrow part of Lake Charlevoix. It used an underwater cable that pulled the ferry back and forth. I would imagine this ferry had a similar system.

Stern Wheeler.

Looks to me like it's powered by stationary hit and miss engine rather than a steam engine. But that's just my assumption.

Shaker Ferry, not Valley View

Responding to a previous comment, this is the former Shaker Ferry, not the Valley View Ferry. Both are (were) in the Lexington area, but Valley View is several miles upriver and is still in operation.

Work Detail

Boat Makeover.

Valley View Ferry

Might this be what we are looking at?

If so, it's still in existence! Although, this particular iteration of it doesn't seem to be connected to the shore via ropes or cables that are suspended above the water.

Shaker Ferry

This is apparently the Shaker Ferry, as seen in this photo from the Cincinnati Public Library collection.

On the ropes

Underwater ropes are the only way that makes sense (to me anyway) but they must be fairly deep to keep other boats from snagging them.

Horse whisperer

I wonder how they talked him into taking the ride.


I don't see any smokestack for what I assume is a steam engine and if there is an engine, it must be above deck as the hull looks too shallow for anything else. Could the engine be behind the superstructure? Hard to see.

Row, Row Your Boat

Notice that the railing where the guy is standing is greatly reinforced. I believe the wooden piece he controls is made to grab the rope or cable and let him walk along the side to propel the raft. If the current is in the right direction, he would be able to control the speed merely by letting the rope slide through.

New member here, have been lurking through the entire Shorpy files. Thanks, Dave for bringing us these fine photos.


A ferry still operating in 1952

This 1952 Topographic Map courtesy of the USGS shows an operating ferry.

Alternate Title

"Dobbin's Ferry." Please, no applause -- just throw money.


I am guessing that there is a rope system under the ferry that is pulling it towards the near shore, but it must be totally under water.

The handle that the man is grasping doesn't seem to be connected to anything that would propel the boat.

I must be going blind

What is propelling the ferry across the river?

-- And thanks, Dave, for all the High Bridge plates!

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