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Bridge or Ferry?

. . . Here I am again, sitting in my car on the Prescott/Ogdensburg international bridge, waiting in a line of traffic.

This reminds me of articles I have read about the times when there were no bridges and people used ferries to cross the St. Lawrence River.

There were many ferry services over the years from 1880 thru 1960. The first ferry service used sailboats to ply the river in the 1770s. Henry Plumb established a steamboat ferry service connecting the Canadian and US shores between Prescott, and Ogdensburg in 1832.  The Lady of the Lake was one of the first, followed by Howard, the New York and the Baptiste.  In later years The Levis, The Joseph Dubrule and The M.S. Windmill, all travelled between Prescott and Ogdensburg. The William Armstrong and The Elmer W. Jones also crossed between Brockville and Morristown.

In 1909 the Prescott and Ogdensburg Ferry Co. Ltd. was formed.  Miss Vandenbrerg, Ferdinand and the Levis were added over the years. 

The ferry Levis, was named after the last French fort in America. The fort was on Isle Royal (Chimney Island) just east of Mallorytown Landing. This was the site of the last battle of the French and Indian war in 1760.

. . . This backup is stalled, I wonder if there may be an accident, well at least I will not sink like The William Armstrong did back in the late 1890's.  She went down off the shore of what is now Hardy Park, in Brockville.

The Wm Armstrong,  a steamer operated by the Prescott-Ogdensburg Ferry Service sank on June 30, 1889. There was reportedly only one death resulting from the sinking.  The Ferry took on water, tipped on its side and sank in about 80 feet of water. She was carrying three cars and a freight car from the railroad loaded with iron ore. Captain Leonard and a crew of five along with (passengers)  J. Hocklinger and John Sweeney both from Brockville were on board. Canadian customs officer Allan Hayner and Charles C. McFall jumped into the river and all but McFall were rescued by a passing steamer. The William Armstrong was raised the following year and moved to Ogdensburg N.Y.

The Elmer W. Jones ferry began her service in the 1920s.  She ran between Morristown and Brockville for several decades.  Doug Grant, who writes a popular website and column,  “A Glimpse of Our Past”  explained that the ferry was named after Lt. –Col. Elmer Watson Jones (ca. 1872-1918), “Brockville’s foremost war hero, native son and former Brockville lawyer.”  She could hold up to 25 cars.  She was used by the US Navy during the World War II but returned to the River in 1946.

In those days the ferries ran all year. They also severed as ice breakers. Even temperatures of 24 below zero did not stop them – but did “slow them a little.”

. . . I am moving a little closer to the pay booths and can see the price has gone up again. I now think of an article I read by Richard Johnson, he stated that the fare for using the ferry was 25 cents per crossing and never changed for 20 years.

The cost to use this bridge seams to always be going up, but I guess they have to pay workers and upkeep. Reminds me of the many stories of life as a ferry worker. One of which is of a deckhand by the name of Philip Jellie who wrote home, in 1948, to tell his dad that he had gotten a dollar a day raise, but could not tell anyone because he said, “it was between him and the owner.”

  (Probably means he was the only one to get the raise.)

. . . I am finally reaching the customs station, I can see officers going to check a pulled over car, I wonder did they try to bring fireworks back?

The reason I say fireworks is because  the 1948 Johnson article talks of a little girl, the daughter of an immigrations officer, that tried to take fireworks from Brockville to Morristown. She hid the fireworks under her French Fries. She got caught.

In 1909 the Prescott-Ogdensburg Co. Ltd. was formed.  The company operated until 1960 when the International Bridge was opened. The M. S. Windmill Point was the last ferry to cross between Prescott and Ogdensburg on September 21, 1960.

Construction on the Ogdensburg–Prescott International Bridge, also known as the Seaway Skyway, began in the 1950s .  This suspension bridge was designed by Modjeski & Masters in Mechanicsburg PA. 

You know it is funny, they stopped the ferries because they were no longer a financially viable mode of transportation between the two countries.  The bridge allowed travellers to continue on their travels and not have to wait to board the ferry.  Yet the cost to use and maintain this bridge goes up too.

Well I've finally cleared customs and the traffic line up. Today, with border security as it is, it  took close to an hour to cross over the St. Lawrence River from the United States to Canada.   In the old days they say that most ferries did the crossing in 15 minutes in winter months and even faster, 10 to 12 minutes, the rest of the year.  How they can say that the bridge is more viable is beyond me, besides, it is not nearly as interesting as in the old days… 

Well no more line ups and the Brockville sign is in site, I will be home soon.

By William J. Elliott

William J. Elliott was born in Toronto, Ontario, but moved to Brockville as an infant. He attended schools in the region and served on several volunteer committees including the Brockville Epilepsy Association. His interest in writing and history began at an early age. He holds a vast collection of reference material, postcards and photographs about Brockville and the Thousand Islands. In addition to these interests, William also writes poetry.

Note:  More information to come which will include how railroad cars crossed the River on the ferry. 

Posted in: History, Places
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Peter Charron
Comment by: Peter Charron ( )
Left at: 2:07 AM Thursday, November 15, 2012
Great article. Rode that ferry many times as a child with our bikes. Especially fun in winter storms. Bridge destroyed downtown of both communities. Sad time where we dove headlong into progress, no questions asked. By the way, i think chimney island and Fort Levi were just downstream from the bridge. The island was removed by Seaway project.
William (Bill) Elliott
Comment by: William (Bill) Elliott ( )
Left at: 7:50 AM Thursday, November 15, 2012
Thank you Peter Charron for the comments and it looks like I have some more research to do reguarding Fort Levi as I may have it confussed with another Island.
Bob Graham
Comment by: Bob Graham ( )
Left at: 10:06 AM Thursday, November 15, 2012
Given that I grew up in Morristown and rode the Jones many times, I especially enjoyed Mr. Elliott's article. Just a couple of points:

While the Prescott-Ogdensburg ferry crossing was maintained year-round, the ferry at Morristown shut down, normally from mid-December until early April.

The last ferries to run between Ogdensburg and Prescott were the small "double-enders" Fort Town, Maple City, and Windmill Point. They replaced the Joseph Dubrule and Levis in the early-50s. While the Levis may seem to have a Thousand Islands namesake, she was built for other owners in 1910 at a shipyard near Levis, Quebec, which is situated opposite Quebec City. My belief is that this was her namesake rather than a fort far removed from her place of origin.

The 25-cent foot-passenger fare charged on the Brockville-Morristown ferry was indeed maintained for many years, but by the early '50s had risen to the princely sum of 35 cents. ;)

I am an avid TI Life reader. Thank you for your fine work, Sue!
Patricia McMahon Regan
Comment by: Patricia McMahon Regan ( )
Left at: 10:51 AM Thursday, November 15, 2012
I enjoyed Mr Elliott's story. Excited that I finally found out the Name of the Ferry. My mother before me spoke of many Ferry trips to visit our relatives in Canada (Prescott and Brockville area). When I speak to friends today about taking the Ferry from Morritown in my youth they think I'm dreaming. But it was real and enjoyable.
Peter Charron
Comment by: Peter Charron ( )
Left at: 1:49 PM Thursday, November 15, 2012
Levi was one of Montcalm's generals, along with naturalist/general Bougainvillea. Both the fort and town were named after General Levi. Levi became the Grand Marshall of France.
Fred Nugent
Comment by: Fred Nugent ( )
Left at: 2:07 PM Thursday, November 15, 2012
My dad worked for the Bridge and Port Authority during the years the bridge was being built, and for a time after that. As a child, I got to 'drive' the Fort Town in mid-channel a few times; and later discovered it and rode it across Mobile Bay, Alabama. The Maple City apparently went to Sault Ste. Marie, but I haven't been able to find any record of her now.
Peter Charron
Comment by: Peter Charron ( )
Left at: 4:30 PM Thursday, November 15, 2012
One more river ferry...
In the background of the photo of the last crossing you can see the railroad ferry operation. The size of the railroad pier was amazing, especially in the mind of a child. Be interesting to know the actual dimensions. I fell off and lost my bicycle when my fishing pole went into the spokes. Inside the pier was criss-crossed with beams. We used it as the world's largest jungle gym.
Philip Jellie
Comment by: Philip Jellie ( )
Left at: 5:27 PM Thursday, November 29, 2012
The deckhand in this story who received a dollar/day raise was my grandfather. He eventually became a river boat captain, and helped guide ships through the 1000 Islands. In those days, I'm told, ships and their own Captains had to stop in Morristown or Cape Vincent (depending on the direction they were heading) and pick up a river captain for the ride through the Islands. My grandfather also doubled, later on, as a Captain on the ferry boats.......the Morristown to Brockville run. In the 1860's his grandfather, my great-great grandfather, walked from Ogdensburg to Canada under water with the aid of a diving helmet, and a row boat pumping air down to him. The helmet is still in my family.
Patrick O'Sullivan
Comment by: Patrick O'Sullivan ( )
Left at: 9:37 PM Sunday, December 15, 2013
I'm interested in acquiring information and digital images of the Ogdensburgh to Prescott Vehicle Ferries "Ogdensburg" and Morrisburg" and also of other vehicle ferries that plied between Ogdensburg and Prescott.

I'm surfing through the web trying to acquire information. Got some small bits but nothing substantial.

I take this opportunity to assure you that your help will be most gratefully received and appreciated by me.

My interest is purely as a model boat enthuasist.

Thanking you in anticipation
I remain yours

Patrick O'Sullivan
49 Clarence Road
NN16 8PF
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 10:03 PM Sunday, December 15, 2013
Patrick. Please email me at I can give you some material.

Susan W. Smith, Editor
Ron Pottinger
Comment by: Ron Pottinger
Left at: 11:46 AM Friday, August 29, 2014
I remember when I was a young lad, my Dad driving us down near the Ferry docks in Brockville, late on a Saturday night and watching the drunks staggering off the last Ferry and heading up the hill to King Street,..... where the local Constabulary were waiting for them. Some were quite amusing...three steps forward and two steps back!