Oldest US ferry to be closed in Conn. budget cuts

By Stephen Dockery

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 15 2011 3:55 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this May 11, 2007 file photo, the Chester-Hadlyme ferry leaves the Hadlyme side of the Connecticut River with a load of cars and passengers. The ferry, which first went into service in 1769 and is the second oldest ferry service on the Connecticut River, will be closing as part of budget cuts revealed Friday, July 15, 2011 by the governor.

Bob Child, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROCKY HILL, Conn. — A Connecticut River ferry dating to 1655 will be closing as part of budget cuts revealed Friday by the governor, bringing an end to what state archivists say is the nation's oldest operating ferry.

The Rocky Hill Ferry, which connects the Hartford suburbs of Rocky Hill and Glastonbury, has been threatened with closure for years because of the expense involved in running it. The state expects to save more than $800,000 over two years by closing it , along with another ferry further down the river in Chester — part of a long list of state services that are being cut to close a $1.6 billion budget gap.

Residents say the ferry is an important summertime attraction for locals and tourists, and they will be sad to see it go.

John Serra, who works at the Rocky Hill Historical Society, said the ferry was once a financial lifeline for the town and has evolved into a social hub.

"It was really the center of town," Serra said.

A stack of papers in a small library above the historical society includes a jumble of photos, newspaper clippings and historical documents chronicling the development of the ferry beginning in 1655, 121 years before the Declaration of Independence.

The records include references to family squabbles over ferry operations in the 1700s, missives on the development of the ferry landing and how the first bridge across the Connecticut River in 1810 was held up for four years due to opposition from ferry operators.

A sketch from the mid-1600s, when the fare was "nine pence pay," shows the wooden pole-operated boat that first crossed the waters. An undated article discusses pre-industrialization American ingenuity with a horse powered treadmill pushing the ferry across the river.

The ferry has closed before because of safety concerns or other reasons, but never permanently as officials are proposing.

Cheryl Valadez, who has worked at the hamburger joint next to the ferry landing since 1989, said the state should have considered charging people more as a way to keep it in business.

"This is our way of keeping the kids out of trouble," the 52-year-old Valadez said.

In addition to the ferry, which carries cars and people for a few dollars, the landing has a park with benches and public water access. Evelyn Corriveau, 66, of New Britain, said the park will not be the same without the ferry.

"It would be a shame to close that," she said.

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