Tred Avon Ferry

Other Names:  Oxford-Bellevue Ferry

The Tred Avon Ferry is the oldest cableless or self propelled ferry, as well as reputed to be the oldest continuously operated ferry, in the United States. The ferry runs between Bellevue and Oxford (see Bellevue and Oxford) saving about 25 miles by road.

The first ferry service was run by Richard Royston at an annual subsidy paid by Talbot County of 2,500 pounds of tobacco. In 1760 the ferry was operated by Elizabeth Skinner. She was permitted to charge the following rates for non-county inhabitants: “man and horse, 9d; foot, 4d; horse and chaise and persons riding therein 2S, and any persons enlisted in his majesty’s service without fee or reward. For these services Skinner was paid 4900 lbs. tobacco per year.”

The ferry continues to be subsidized by Talbot County today, as it was when first authorized.

The ferry has operated by oar, steam, and diesel. The first ferry was scow propelled by oars; it was replaced by a small coal-fired steam tug named the William H. Fisher in 1886.

A signal system was used so someone on one side of the river could signal the ferrymaster if it were on the opposite side. A large square sheet of wood was hoisted; white side toward water if horse, wagon or car and black side if only foot passenger. This way the ferryman knew whether to bring along the barge or only the tug. This tug operated until 1932 when Capt. Buck Richardson built the first self-propelled ferry, a diesel-powered three car ferry. Capt. William Benson bought the ferry in 1938 and operated it for nearly 50 years.

In 1968 between 11,000 and 13,000 cars with about 50,000 people used the ferry. Under Benson’s ownership he also used a signal system; a guillotine-like contraption where a customer can raise a painted wooden square to notify the ferryman if on the opposite side. Since the tug, there was no longer a need for distinction between foot or car passage. Benson sold the ferry operation to Gilbert Clark who now operates two larger, diesel-powered ferries.

A packing plant was once operated by W. H. Valliant on the Bellevue side of the river.

(Choptank River Cultural Resources Inventory, 1999-2002)