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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Family’s Migration Story: Tennessee To Missouri Ferry

The story told about Uncle Jim's journey references “...they landed in New Madrid on the ferry...”. The story told of Grandpa John's journey does not reference how they got across the Mississippi River. In trying to trace the journey and migration of John & Kizzie family from Tennessee to Missouri, I investigated several possible crossing points in Mississippi and New Madrid counties.

We know of four ferries in the New Madrid area: the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, the Belmont-Columbus Ferry, and the Tiptonville Ferry (Ferryland in Missouri) and the New Madrid Ferry.

  • The only one still operating is the Dorena (MO)-Hickman(KY) Riverboat Ferry crossing. Having ridden it several times during this research its history is sketchy and appears to have been an on again off again operation for sometime.

  • The Belmont(MO)-Columbus(KY) Ferry is probably the oldest of the four ferries, dating back to 1825. The community of Belmont was located north of Dorena and like Dorena no longer exist. The only reference to the Belmont-Columbus Ferry I have found is one that mentions it was established in 1825 and was re-opened in 2014. I will investigate this on my next trip.
    Belmont-Columbus Ferry

  • Tiptonville-Ferryland Ferry, I was checking out the Point Pleasant, Missouri area when I was directed to a place called 'Ferryland' to the south. It looked to be very promising, primarily because when I spoke to several people fishing on the bank they were familiar with the history of the area and the ferry landing. They pointed out the corresponding landing on the Tennessee side of the river and affirmed that it the Tiptonville Ferry was in operation in the 20 and 30s, that it also operated off and on maybe as late as the 70s. (Ferryland, State Highway 162 dead-ends at the rivers edge)
    On a subsequent trip I went to Tiptonville. I found the ferry location (Tiptonville Ferry Rd.) and once in town I was informed that one of the owners of the ferry in the past was still alive. I was directed to the local Ace hardware store owned and operated by the former ferry owner and his son. As it turned out he and his father owned the ferry and they, with his son had all worked on it. Unfortunately (see New Madrid Ferry below), he informed me that the ferry wasn't in Tiptonville until 1950.

  • New Madrid Ferry, with Uncle Jim's migration story “...they landed in New Madrid on the ferry...”, the first place I started this search was in New Madrid, but on several visits I was always told there had been no ferry in New Madrid. This was always a letdown because Troy and I had vague memories of a ferry ride in the area. It was because of the negative responses I got from the New Madrid search that I started looking for other possible crossing locations like Dorena, Belmont and Tiptonville.
    In the above paragraph on Tiptonville I finish with the unfortunate news that the ferry was not in Tiptonville until the 1950s, this news was unfortunate for only a few moments, for as the conversation continued he revealed that his father had moved the ferry to Tiptonville from New Madrid!
    He could not date how long the ferry had been in New Madrid but he said New Madrid was a logical location until a sandbar had developed that interfered with the ferry.

As is the case quite often in this type of research a little mis-information, or missed information, can send you on a maddening detour.

ferry map

There were several things I learned about ferries that would influence the movement of a ferry: sandbars, droughts (sometimes more so than floods), new roads, shrinking towns, river traffic, competition, and changes in ownership.

The case for the New Madrid Ferry

Ferry Crossings were more common than bridges in 1929 and 1932. The most logical route would have been due west to Memphis and a crossing there or somewhere north of there to Tiptonville, Tennessee which is directly across from New Madrid County, MO.
In 1929 there was only one bridge across the river between Memphis and St. Louis. So one has to assume they crossed by ferry somewhere from Memphis to Cairo. Even though there were bridges in Memphis and the newly opened (old) Cairo Bridge (at the current Ft. Defiance location), they might have still taken a ferry if the toll was cheaper. Back then most bridges were toll bridges. In addition we can rule out the use of the Cairo bridge since it was only connecting Missouri and Illinois, not Kentucky, the Cairo-Kentucky bridge over the Ohio River was not yet built.

In the case of Grandpa John’s migration the same scenario would apply. The fact that John's migration story makes no mention of a ferry doesn't mean they took a bridge. Bridges were infrequent, newer, expensive and probably had higher tolls. Ferries on the other hand were more numerous, older and less costly.

Let’s look at the most logical routes:

1926us enlarged

On this 1926 map Lawrence County was on the state line between Columbia, TN., and Florence, AL., and New Madrid was at the top of the bootheel on the Mississippi. Keep in mind this map shows only the main roads, by necessity back roads would be used, but for major portions of the trip the main roads shown would most likely be used.

There would be three choices in 1929 and 32:

  1. From Lawrence County go due west or south to Highway 72 which would take them to Memphis where they would then cross into Arkansas and then take Highway 61 north to New Madrid. Even today, using the newer interstates, this is a possible route.
  2. At Memphis take  Highway 51 north and then the backloads west to the river and a ferry (New Madrid)
  3. From Lawrence, go northwest to Highway 45, take it north to Highway 51. From there go west on back roads to the ferry(New Madrid) or go north on Highway 51 and then west on back roads to the ferry(New Madrid)

All three routes appear practical, we have no knowledge of conditions that would favor one rout over the other except for three things: the third route appears to be more direct as it angles northwest towards New Madrid, the third route also avoids Memphis (would Memphis be an enticement or a deterrent to these hill folk?), and last, but not least, the second and third routes literally require a ferry to New Madrid.

So, until we have evidence, or at least information, that contradicts taking the family’s migration story literally doesn’t the New Madrid crossing make since?   


note: There were two other possible ferries (one in Caruthersville and I think the other in Dyersburg? I will look into this in the future.

1 comment:

  1. http://www3.gendisasters.com/missouri/15255/caruthersville-mo-ferry-collision-july-1946


    Caruthersville, Mo., July 29 -- (AP) -- The muddy Mississippi River was searched today for the bodies of at least ten persons, possibly more, who were believed to have perished in the collision of a ferry boat and two oil laden barges near here.



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