Despite various owners, hurricanes and other obstacles, the Hatton Ferry continues to cross the James River each year, on weekends from April to October. According to the Scottsville Museum website, the Hatton Ferry began operating in the late 1870s ferrying people, cattle, horses—and later buggies and automobiles—across the James River, from Albemarle County to Buckingham County.
The ride across the James River is short, but tranquil. The Hatton Ferry ferryboat is basically a flat-bottomed structure with a deck on top; once onboard, visitors are mere inches from the James River itself. Passenger maximum load is 6 people, with what looks like space for one car, although 2 cars at a time is possible.
There is just something about being in a place which holds historical significance, which allows a visitor to recall or intuit a previous timeline and way of life.
The pulley system and cables are readily visible and apparent; once the ferryboat starts moving—either by the river current or a good strong pole by the Captain—then the pulley system basically guides the ferry, using the current of the river, to get to the other side.
There is just something about being in a place which holds historical significance, which allows a visitor to recall or intuit a previous timeline and way of life. Or, at the very least, encourages the visitor to take a moment or two to step back, away from our modern, fast-paced society, and experience sensately a slower, simpler, time from the past.
The ferryboat captains are usually personable, and willing to chat about what the James River and the Hatton Ferry has meant to the area. The poles, pulleys and the cables are the same technology with which the Hatton Ferry began, and although the James River is ever-changing, it too remains for the most part, the same.
Ownership of the ferry has changed hands a few time, and the Hatton Ferry is currently organized as a non-profit, dependent on donations from visitors and generous donors (to donate to keep the ferry floating down the river, email firstname.lastname@example.org.). Today, the Hatton Ferry is known as “a poled operated ferry” and it is the last of its kind in the United States.
The operating season for the Hatton Ferry is usually weekends from April through October of each year, depending on water levels and amount of rain; occasionally, flooding conditions will close the Hatton Ferry down, until water levels fall low enough for safe passage across. The Hatton Ferry will also shut down if the water level of the James River is too low. (To make sure the Hatton Ferry is in service on a particular weekend, phone the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society Mon.-Fri, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 434.296.1492; otherwise, email email@example.com.)
The Daily Progress recently reported that the Hatton Ferry “operations cost about $13,000” annually, but the vignette into Virginia history is still priceless. Individual Hatton Ferry rides are $5 per person and $10 per car. Generally people take the ferry from Albemarle County over to Buckingham, but this Examiner was told by the “Hatton Ferry Captain,” to just honk if ever on the Buckingham side of the river, and he would be happy to come on over and ferry whoever from Buckingham to the Albemarle side of the James River.
Interested in more information about the Hatton Ferry? Or other things to do in the area? Check out the following resources:
- Hatton Ferry Facebook page
- Detailed Hatton Ferry history
- Scottsville Museum Hatton Ferry history with photographs
- Historical sites near Scottsville
- Historical sites near Charlottesville
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