Zac McDorrFew can remember what a chore it was to get across the Kennebec River before the Carlton Bridge was built in the 1920s.

Ferry service began around 1760 at Arnold’s or Harnden’s Ferry at the north end of Washington Street in Bath. Day’s Ferry opened in 1778 a quarter mile downriver. Washington Street did not actually go that far north at the time; instead, the end of High street curved around toward the river and ended at the ferry.

Given the frozen nature of the river in wintertime, operating the ferry was only a part-year job, and a way for farmers to make extra money. Log drives also made it difficult to cross over to Woolwich. When conditions were right, ferry operators worked 12-hour shifts to carry passengers on their way to Wiscasset and beyond.

Captain Samuel Harnden and his son operated the ferry for 70 years, between 1760 and 1830. Nathaniel Day and his sons operated another ferry nearby during most of the same period.

Thomas Stetson took over in 1830 and the Maine Legislature granted him a permit for something I would love to see: A horse-powered ferry. This was a boat with a horse that walked on a treadmill to power a paddle-wheel. Stetson had employed a steam-powered ferry at Augusta as early as 1808.

Steam service in Bath began in 1837 with the Sagadahock Steam Ferry Co., which received a loan from the town to get things started. At least three ferries were in service during the years leading up to the construction of the Carlton Bridge: The Hockamock and the Governor King, which carried passengers, horses, and automobiles; and the Ferdinando Gorges, which carried train cars. One can imagine how difficult it was to transport a train across the river on a ferry, a few cars at a time.

Less than two cars a day used the ferries in 1907. By 1916 they were transporting over 1,000 a month. Old photos show long lines of Model T’s and other early cars waiting for the boat. As car and train traffic continued to grow, the ferry system became outdated. When the Carlton Bridge opened in 1928, it boasted a train track and a road surface. The days of the ferry boat were over.

Source: Owen’s History of Bath, Maine 1936

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