Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Few Words on Ferries



 The story of Portland's ferries is one that deserves at least a small book filled with attractive photographs and engaging anecdotes gleaned from the newspapers of yesteryear. I know a little about the subject, enough to know it is interesting, and deserves some attention. It is especially interesting how the ferry operators fought to keep bridges off the river, and were able to do so for many years.

Photos may be hard to come by for such a book. I haven't looked into the OHS archives, but I have been looking at river photos for many years, and from what I see, photographs of Portland ferries are few and far between. From peering over Sanborn maps I know there was once a method of ferrying railcars across the river near the Steel Bridge, but I have yet to see a photograph.

Here are my best two pictures. 

The first is the W. S. Mason, the Albina Ferry ferryboat that operated for many years between a landing on the lower west side next to Mersey Dock to the foot of what is now Albina Avenue on the east shore. This photo is a close up of part of a larger panoramic image I was fortunate enough to obtain. 

Albina Ferry

The second image was taken at night and then doctored up to make a pretty post card. It may still be the Albina Ferry, but it could also be the Stark Street ferry. The boats had a similar build. I tend to think that it is still the Albina Ferry for two reasons: 1. It was easier to get an image like that from the lower deck of the old Steel Bridge, especially if it was in the open position, with the swing span out in the river. 2. The docks silhouetted against the sky look vaguely familiar, and the position of the hills seems to be that of the north of town. 

Ferry at Night


I am open to any other speculation on this subject.

Ah! "But why," you might ask, "did they still need ferries after building bridges." The answer is simply this: The bridges were toll bridges and the ferries were turned into free ferries by the city.

Back in those days you could get a ferry to Vancouver from downtown. I will bet there are lots of people who would opt for that method of transport today. I know I would.

 Incidentally, during WWII there was a ferry from Vancouver to the shipbuilding area at Swan Island. Unfortunately this ferry met with a terrible disaster, many lives were lost. I may post about this at some later date. This disaster may be one of the reasons Portland lost it's appetite for ferries. That day is long forgotten now, and who knows what the future may bring? A ferry to Sellwood would be nice, and to Saint Johns, not to mention bypassing all the traffic stuck on I5 trying to get to Vancouver.