As you drive down Whitehaven Ferry Road, flanked by cattails and marsh grass you will probably pass a few people fishing along the edge of the Wicomico River or catch a glimpse of some kayakers enjoying a calm day on the water, but just like that the road is gone. The road drops off and a sign reads a warning of deep water but the best is still to come. The village of Whitehaven is on the opposite bank and in just a few short minutes the ferry will arrive to take you across the river. The Whitehaven Ferry connects Whitehaven to Mount Vernon with a short 6 minute ferry ride, compared to the 40 minutes it would take you to drive around. The ride will cost you nothing but it is an experience that you will remember.
The small village of Whitehaven, population 43, is a quiet community surrounded by a rich history of steamboats and ship yards. Nearly all the buildings in the village originated in the 1800s and are well managed, especially the grand Whitehaven Hotel that sits waterfront along the Wicomico River. However, the most recognizable symbol of Whitehaven is its hard working three car ferry, established in 1692, making it the oldest running public ferry in the United States.
Today, the ferry is operated by Captain Bobby Bean who is also a waterman and charter boat captain. There can be traffic between these 2 small towns whether it’s local commuters, out of town tourists, or just someone looking for a scenic drive. So Bean keeps guiding the ferry from shore to shore while we discuss the Whitehaven Ferry. Since the age of 23, Bean has been running the ferry between the banks of the Wicomico. “The waterman business was spotty but I knew I wanted to stay on the water. So when the ferry became available I was able to be on the water full time.”
While the ferry is guided by a submerged cable to prevent drifting, Bean runs the electric motor that powers it from shore to shore. He has to be vigilant for boat traffic and especially for barges running to and from Salisbury. He also monitors the wind, tide, and weather to ensure that it is safe to run the ferry. High tides and strong winds can cause the water to white cap which may pose a threat to safety. Some time ago, a bridge was proposed for the area but the idea was shut down. It would take a great deal of money and space to build a bridge that the Salisbury barges could pass under. Maintaining the ferry is cheaper, through Wicomico County Public Works. Anyway, people like their ferry just fine.
Bean’s day begins at 7 a.m. when he raises the red arm to allow people to board the ferry. He describes the traffic back and forth as nonstop as people use it to cut down on their commute time. As a regular passenger on his way to work boards the ferry, he and Bean joke and have a casual conversation on the trip across. When they reach the other side both nod and wave before the truck pulls off and the next round boards. Bean has many regular ferry users that he has built a similar relationship with but says not everyone is patient. Sometimes passengers can become annoyed over weather closings or wait times. To be sure the Whitehaven Ferry or its up river counter part Upper Ferry, passengers can call the hotline at 410-543-2765.
Bean describes the Wicomico River as “a good cruising river” with a lot of history along its banks. He’ll admit that the water within Salisbury’s city limits isn’t the cleanest but the further south you go the better the river gets. He sees many people swimming, boating, and jet skiing on the Wicomico during the summer months. “People shouldn’t be scared of the water [on the Wicomico]” he says. So get out and enjoy the river, maybe take a scenic drive across the Whitehaven Ferry!
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