An article from 1970 said that the Clyde Kessinger family was part of a vanishing Kentucky scene. They operated the Point Pleasant ferry that crossed the 100-yard width of the Green River, linking Hwy 85 between Ohio and McLean counties. Kessinger bought the ferry in 1967 and his son, Danny, was helping him run it. Kessinger was raised in the area known as “the bend,” which was a mile upstream from the Point Pleasant ferry. (Interestingly, there was also a ferry in that area at one time. The name of that bend is Kirtley Bend, and there was a Kirtley’s ferry operating there until the 1920s.) Kessinger operated the ferry from about 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays — and sometimes ran up to midnight on weekends. The ferry could carry six cars at a time, two abreast. It was pushed by a power boat that had an old flathead engine, rebuilt from a 1949 Ford, and was guided by a cable lying across the river.
In 1974, Harlon Carter owned the ferry, and it was operated by his sons Junior and Lennie Carter, and their friend Tom Doyle. The trip cost 75 cents one way and $1.25 round-trip. Part of the operator’s job involved taking a “walk” across the river, which added variety to the 20 to 60 trips made each day. A round-trip took just seven minutes. The ferry was usually powered by a “kick-about,” a boat attached to the ferry’s side. The kick-about housed a tractor motor that drove the propeller. It was so named because it was pushed away from the ferry and swung around to switch directions for the trip back. The ferry had a load limit of 72,000 pounds. A cable guided the ferry and was placed nearly 22 feet under water to accommodate barge traffic. “Walking” the ferry involved walking on the cable behind the pulleys. The weight on the cable pushed the ferry forward. The trip was slower that way, but, per Tom and Lennie, in case of mechanical trouble or an energy crunch, there was nothing better than manpower. Although the cable could be raised for high water, the current would become too swift, and they would not operate the ferry during those times, because it got too dangerous.
When the ferry didn’t operate, motorists on the Ohio County side had to turn around and go through Centertown, Beaver Dam and Hartford to get to Livermore — a distance of about 30 miles. The U.S. Coast Guard required a 35-passenger-carrying vehicle license for the ferry. When problems with the license caused the ferry to close for a while, motorists got up a petition to get the ferry operating again. The ferry operated from 4 or 5 a.m. (whenever a passenger would come and knock on the side of the trailer to wake someone up to be taken across) until 11:30 p.m. In case of serious mechanical trouble, a tug stood by to replace the kick-about. That was handy one morning when the kick-about sank.
In 1978, Robert Hoskins owned the ferry. His sons, Jerry and Melvin, usually ran it, and another pilot named Danny Clark helped out (in its last days, another son, Tom, son-in-law Charlie Dixon, and Danny O’Connell worked the ferry, too). Hoskins said on a good day he’d transport more than 200 cars and trucks across the Green. At this time people on horses could cross for 10 cents, but people in cars had to pay $1.
Both Kessinger and Hoskins mentioned that the coal barges would toot their horns once or twice when they were coming around the bend, to forewarn the ferry operator they were coming. Clark said “You gotta watch those barges. They’ll run over you.” Once, when one towboat ran over and broke Kessinger’s cable, the operator quickly replaced it.
In the nine years the Hoskins’ ran the ferry, there was only one accident. In December 1980, a tractor-trailer carrying 43,000 pounds of steel pipe drove up on the ferry, and its weight apparently made one of the ferry’s guide cables snap. The truck shifted its weight to the left and rolled into the river. The driver was reported to have gotten off the ferry with dry feet. There were no injuries in the accident. The truck and steel was removed from the river, but the ferry remained on the river bottom for three weeks until air-filled flotation devices were deployed to bring it up. It took another three months of repairs before the ferry was back in service full-time.
Additionally, there was an accident way back in 1884 that involved a traveling salesman headed to Island. When his buggy, holding trunks weighing about 1,200 pounds, started on to the boat, the heavy log chain that was supposed to hold the boat fast was around a low stake only three inches high. The weight of the horses going onto the boat tightened the chain, which slipped over the top of the stake. The boat shot out into the river, which was 46 feet deep, and the horses and wagon floundered in the water as the ferry drifted away downstream. One of the horses died. The wagon and trunks were brought up with ropes and poles. The liveryman sued the ferry company for $150 and won, on the grounds that having an anchor stake only three inches high constituted criminal negligence. A similar accident occurred in 1888, with another horse drowning.
The Hoskins-era ferry was a steel pontoon craft guided by a plywood wheelhouse and driven by a Chevy engine with only two gears, forward and reverse. Hoskins said the engine was “made special so it would go just as fast in reverse as it does in forward.” For as long as anyone could remember, a ferry boat of some kind had been the only means of passage across the Green at the spot where the town of Point Pleasant once stood. Hoskins could remember when a wooden ferry was used to make the crossing there. From last week’s article, we know that when the Livermore ferry ceased operating in 1940, their ferry equipment was brought up to the Point Pleasant ferry. The road from Island to the ferry was black-topped in 1956 — a happy day, to be sure. And from the accidents just mentioned, we know a ferry had been at Point Pleasant since at least 1884, and probably well before that.
Ferry crossing fees were set by the state’s Division of Traffic. In 1986, the fee was $1.25 for cars and $2.25 for trucks. That year, Hoskins estimated the ferry was still transporting about 150 cars per day, and at the same time a bridge was being built that would make the ferry obsolete. In the Nov. 20, 1986, newspaper, a week before the bridge was to open, Hoskins said, “We had no idea that the bridge was coming,” and added, “We’ve helped this community no telling how much. When they were opening that plant (Big Rivers), we were carrying 500 cars a day.” Unlike the Livermore ferry in 1940, the state did not buy out the Point Pleasant ferry. Per the Dept. of Highways, if the ferry had been located on an interstate highway, the state would have had to make the owners an offer to buy it at appraised value, but since Hwy 85 was only an intrastate highway, the department was only obligated to advertise, which it did. No one responded to the advertisements. If someone had, the response would have been followed with a public hearing to hear the complaints of the respondents. Hoskins’ son, Jerry, had this to add about the impending opening of the toll-free bridge, “That’ll about do her in. It’s pretty hard to compete with free.” Point Pleasant ferry was the last of the McLean County ferries.
The Museum will have a booth at this Saturday’s Harvest Fest at Myer Creek Park, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Stop on by! The Museum and Treasure House are normally open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — the Museum from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the Treasure House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; however, the Treasure House is closed this Friday. We’re at 540 Main St., Calhoun, and our number is 270-499-5033.
I wish everyone a safe week!