By Lenore Person
More than 100 ferry routes have come and gone on the Hudson River during the past 300 years. Ferry service peaked in the early part of this century. But, if you watch the waters closely, you'll see Hudson River ferry service slowly coming back. Routes between New Jersey and Manhattan, limited service between Peekskill, Garrison and West Point, and some excursion routes up the Hudson are being restored.
Hudson River ferries played a critical role in America's war for independence and shaped communities along the river. They also fostered the invention of the steam engine, carried millions of immigrants on the first leg of their journey west, and in the final years, decorated with such luxury that they were termed "floating palaces" - were gone.
People under sixty simply have not experienced the vast capacity of the Hudson to move people, cargo and cars - inexpensively, conveniently and enjoyably.
For those who remember them, the slow and steady increase of ferries over the past ten years has been encouraging, yet expected, like the tides on this mighty estuary.
Early Hudson River Ferries
All along the Hudson, from north of Albany to its mouth at Staten Island, there were informal ferries almost as soon as there were settlers. They were row boats, two masted sail boats called periaugers, and horseboats, where from two to eight horses or mules walked a treadmill which was connected by a gear to paddle wheels. The right to run a ferry at a certain location was initially granted by royalty, in later years, operators would buy ferry rights.
In 1700, the First Earl of Bellomont granted a charter to Samuel Bayard for a ferry between Weehawken, N.J., and Manhattan. This primitive service lasted 100 years, with the crossing taking anywhere from 15 minutes to well over three hours, depending on winds and tides. The advent of the world's steam ferry route out of Hoboken, N.J., put the Weehawken route temporarily out of business. It's interesting to note that the Hoboken Ferry operated continuously for 145 years, until 1967. At the time it closed, it was the last steam ferryboat on the Hudson.