Ferry Rides Again

Written By Cleve Powell
Originally published in the March 2006 edition of the OAI Newsletter

When was the last time you saw a thousand people gather together in Arlington for any community celebration! Well it seems that in 1940, the Arlington Community Club sponsored the resurgence of the Arlington Ferry, which originally opened ca. 1914. The celebration was held at the Arlington Community Club on Monday, February 12, 1940 and per the diary of my grandmother, “Sarah” Louise Bruce-Johnson, there were a thousand folks who attended.

A little background: Arlington, in the early days, was almost exclusively accessible only from the river. In 1873, one of Arlington’s first developers was the “Arlington Bluff Association of Florida”. In a promotional publication they stated “The steam ferry boat Clifton, owned by the association, makes four trips each day daily Sundays excepted, between Jacksonville and Arlington Bluff” (entrance to Arlington River). The president of the association was Henry Foster, M.D., Clifton Springs, N.Y. This doubtlessly is where the community of Clifton (Arlington Bluff) got its name. This company was taken over by William Matthews Esq.; some of the land was sold, and at some point the ferry Clifton quit running.

The Alderman Realty Co., which was formed in 1912, purchased 1,107 acres in Arlington in 1913. They also started a ferry operation in 1914 to promote the sale of their land. The ferry ran from the foot of SaintXJohns Street (now Arlington Road) to the foot of Beaver Street, which was then known as the Fairfield Section, a distance of a mile and a quarter. Two ferry boats, The “Arlington” and the “Fairfield,” held eight automobiles each (per Hartley Steeves, they made room for ten), and operated on a fifteen minute schedule. In 1919 the ferry was reportedly sold by Mr. Sprinkle of the original company into the control of The Arlington Ferry and Land Company of which A. C. Macy was General Manager. I believe the ferry ran continuously until ca. 1936. Lewis Macy was the pilot of one vessel and his cousin Charley was the Engineer. Joe Cameron was also a pilot, and Ralph Spearing (pictured leaning against post in Ferry ad of 1924), and “Shug” Wilson were deck hands.

From “Sarah” Louise Bruce-Johnson’s diary:
February 8, 1940: “Preacher came out all stirred up over plan to serve beer at ferry blow out, so Mr. (Cleveland) Johnson spent hours trying to straighten it out with club officers and committees.”
February 10, 1940: “Mr. Johnson went to town and saw D. C. Brown who urged him to run for County Commissioner. Saw SaintXJohn, Rex Sweat, and Clyde Simpson about contributing to Monday night’s ferry blow out.”
February 12, 1940: “Mr. Johnson gone all morning hauling things to the club house for the big Arlington Ferry Blow out.” “At 4:45 pm all dressed up, Mr. Johnson-Mayor protem of Arlington left to conduct the celebration.” “They had a high old time with about a 1,000 people in attendance. He got home about 10PM tired out, hungry and chilled thru.”

There are many entries in the 1940 diary after that, of the family meeting the ferry or catching the ferry always on the hour or half hour. The ferry quit running for good some time during WWII.

On a personal note, my grandparents told me they moved to Arlington April 15, 1914 from “Billy Goat Hill” in West Fairfield by way of the ferry in one trip. They had two wagon loads of furniture pulled by horses, and were herding their livestock to their new home on Lone Star Road. If I were an artist that would make a good subject, but as I can’t draw you must use your own imagination! Thanks to the Steeves brothers and J. C. Olson for some of the facts above.