History of Rocky Hill Ferry

Glastonbury-Rocky Hill Ferry (Source)

A ferry linked the two communities soon after 1649, when Wethersfield voted to lay out roads on both sides of the river (present-day Glastonbury Road on the west and Ferry Lane on the east) and established a public landing in Rocky Hill. Joseph Smith, holder of one of the early land grants there, or Richard Smith, were the first ferrymen, and the privilege was passed down in their extended family. In 1724 the General Assembly affirmed the Smith’s continued hegemony by formally granting the ferry right to Jonathan, Joseph’s son, and set the toll rate: four pence for each man, horse, and load, with persons on horseback at half rate, double on Sundays or during high water. Raft and later boats were propelled by oars, sweeps, poles or sails depending on conditions. When the river was in flood, ferrymen had to skid their boats across inundated marshes and make for Glastonbury docks north or south of the regular landing. Equipment remained relatively primitive until 1846, when an ingenious ferryman installed a horse-powered treadmill on the deck of his flatboat.

While the ferry privilege had remained exclusively in the hands of Rocky hill residents for the first hundred years, during the last half of the nineteenth century, ferrymen lived on both sides of the river. Among them were William R. Bulkeley, who lived at Rocky Hill Landing and Anson Tryon and Robert Hollister of Glastonbury. Since other ferries that served nearby towns in the Central Valley were no longer operating, for these men, farmers all, the ferry privilege was a lucrative sideline.[14] It became even more valuable after the Connecticut Valley Railroad came through Rocky Hill Landing in 1871, making the district ferry a vital link in a much wider inland transportation network. Since railroads continued to bypass the east side of the river, it was much appreciated by Glastonbury’s mill owners, who ferried woolen goods and ground feldspar across the river to be shipped by rail well into the twentieth century.

Perhaps in anticipation of the increased custom generated by the railroad, in 1866 Rocky Hill and Glastonbury paid Lyman Williams a $1,000 bonus to put a steam ferryboat in operation. When his lease was renewed in 1876, his partner was Martin F. Hollister, the son of Judge Martin Hollister of South Glastonbury. Centennial, their new steam ferryboat, remained in service until spring of 1888, when young Hollister, now the sole owner of the privilege, built a new vessel, The Hollister. Following a legal challenge to his ownership, however, in which the State Supreme Court ruled that the towns owned the ferry, Hollister “threw up” his right in 1893. Rocky Hill and Glastonbury jointly ran the ferry until it was taken over by the state in 1915. A steam-powered side winder, the Nayaug, provided service from 1903 to 1921.

The present steel barge, Hollister III, with a three-car capacity, is towed by the Cumberland, powered by a modern marine diesel engine. They were designed by Walter McInnis (1893-1976), a naval architect and founder of the design and brokerage firm of Eldredge-McInnis of Boston in 1926. Although perhaps best known for his 1930 design of the 52-foot Marlin, which later became President John F. Kennedy’s family yacht, McInnis designed numerous other motor sailers — yachts, schooners and cruisers — including the 83-foot Lion’s Whelp, a tender in America’s Cup races. Although the majority of commercial fishing vessels designed by McInnis were built in Nova Scotia yards, many of the his custom-designed pleasure craft were constructed at George Lawry & Son of Neponset, Massachusetts, McInnis’ first employer and the premier yacht builders of New England.[15]

One Response to “History of Rocky Hill Ferry”

  1. Gim Graham Hollister Jr Says:

    My wife, Joyce Hollister,ran across the info in the “American Profile” newspaper supplement. i am a descendent of these Hollisters. My great grandfather drove a small herd of cattle and band of sheep from Ohio across the West to California in the ca.1852 .We understand that he drove them through the Carson Valley of Nevada where we now live.

    Have a great time.

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