Anderson Ferry across Ohio River celebrates 200 years


By Scott Wartman - The Cincinnati Enquirer



CONSTANCE (AP) — A day before James Monroe took the oath of office to become the fifth president, Northern Kentucky resident George Anderson received government approval to operate a ferry.

Since March 3, 1817, the Anderson Ferry has transported people between Constance, Kentucky, and Delhi Township, in Ohio’s Hamilton County. At the start, a wooden ferryboat powered by men with poles transported horses, people, livestock and wagons. Now, three diesel-powered boats transport people and their cars across the same stretch of river.

At the Anderson Ferry’s 200th birthday earlier this month, there was no cake, confetti or a bicentennial celebration. Just high, choppy waters and driftwood thanks to a storm. Business as usual.

And ferry captain John James wouldn’t have it any other way. The beauty of the Ohio River Valley is enough.

“In the summertime when trees get green, there’s no place in the world any greener,” said James. “The jungles of Vietnam weren’t any greener than this valley is when you have a good summer. And the foliage in the autumn looks like you are sitting in a bowl of Trix (cereal). It looks absolutely beautiful.”

The ferry has provided a constant but quiet presence in the lives of Cincinnatians and Northern Kentuckians for not only all their lives, but the lives of their grandparents and their grandparent’s grandparents.

Carol Spitzer smiled as she sat in her car, the ferry plowing through a swift-flowing river this week. The Florence resident uses the ferry at least once a week to travel to Delhi for her job. When told the ferry was turning 200 this week, she thought about her grandchildren, who are now teenagers.

“I can remember bringing them for the very first time to ride across in a car,” Spitzer said. “It is a very unique thing… These are my favorite things.”

Current ferry owner Paul Anderson (possibly a distant relation to George Anderson, he’s not sure) said he’s honored to be part of the tradition. The Anderson Ferry is one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the Cincinnati. The Rabbit Hash General Store opened in 1831. Procter & Gamble began in 1837. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s first issue came out in 1841.

“You have grandparents come down and bring their grandchildren down,” Anderson said. “They say when they were children their grandparents brought them down. It’s a connection of generations.”

He worked on the ferry as a teenager in the early 1960s, and later got his license to pilot a towboat. At the time, the Kottmyer family owned it, as they had since the Civil War. When they put the ferry up for sale in 1986, Anderson saw it as a chance to get out of the construction industry he was working in.

A love of the Ohio River also drew Anderson back. It’s what keeps his crew there too, some having been with the ferry as long as he has. One of the captains, John James, worked alongside Anderson on the ferry in the 1960s as a teenager. Anderson immediately hired him as a pilot in 1986 when he bought the ferry. James has remained ever since.

The view of the Ohio River Valley from the captain’s chair of the Anderson Ferry never gets old for James.

Each crossing he’s made since he first took a job on the Anderson Ferry in the 1960s as a teenager is different. Driftwood, wind, sun, rain, snow, lighting. All have different challenges.

It’s the sunrises and sunsets, however, that James likes best—the most beautiful in the world, he said.

“And I’ve seen a lot of them from around the world,” James said.

Those that rode the ferry this week were surprised to learn it has operated for two centuries. But they’re happy it’s lasted this long. They don’t mind the wait or the average 12 minutes it takes for the ferry to cross. For some, it’s a break from the maddening pace of the world.

Javier Gonzalez of Maineville this week got out his truck parked on the ferry to watch the high waters of the Ohio River swirl around the ferryboat. He uses the ferry frequently going to jobs for his carpet cleaning business.

“It’s the Ohio River, one of the best attractions of the area,” Gonzalez said. “I really enjoy it.”

The ferry does a steady business, Anderson said, thanks to the airport and three boats that can handle more traffic, averaging about 500 cars a day.

When he started in the 1960s, the ferry only had one boat. With there also being fewer interstates, rush hour at the ferry 50 years ago took a long time.

“During rush hour, we’d get dozens of cars lined up, but no one got excited or upset,” Anderson said. “They were used to it. People were more laid back then.”

Anderson thinks the ferry could go on for another 200 years as long as another bridge doesn’t get built in the area. Electric cars might also threaten the future of the ferry, he said. People use the ferry now to avoid wasting gas sitting in heavy traffic. Electric cars might take away that reason to use the ferry, he said.

“I think it’ll be there quite a long while yet,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he doesn’t know whether he’ll hold a bicentennial celebration this year. He’s just grateful the ferry business is doing well.

“For me personally, I’m humbled by the fact that I’m an owner of the ferry,” he said. “For the ferry to be there for 200 years, I have to thank all the customers who kept it alive and floating, pardon the expression.”

By Scott Wartman

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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