Fans of Fredericktown Ferry seek support to keep it afloat

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FREDERICKTOWN – Bar owner John Bower, whose business sits at the Washington County entrance to the historic Ferryboat Frederick, says he has been beating his “head against a brick wall” to keep the vessel afloat on the Monongahela River.


“It’s one of the most beautiful tourism attractions in Washington County and nobody’s interested,” said Bower, co-owner of Bower Brothers Lounge in Fredericktown.


Bower organized the Fredericktown Ferry Festival in 2010 in an attempt to draw tourism to the village in East Bethlehem Township at a time when the ferry was under threat of permanent dry docking because a new nearby bridge was under construction.


Opposition to its demise was overwhelming, prompting commissioners in Washington and Fayette counties to pledge to keep the vessel afloat after the new Mon-Fayette Expressway bridge opened last year between Centerville and Brownsville.


The 2011 election, however, changed the makeup of the commissioner offices, which are again considering scrapping the ferry because ridership is down and costs are increasing to keep it running. This time, commissioners say, there hasn’t been much outcry from the public about the plan.


“I’ve gotten two emails since mid-February,” said Angela M. Zimmerlink, a commissioner in Fayette, the county that operates the ferry service, splitting its nearly $200,000 annual cost with Washington County.


Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober said he has received only a couple of emails about the ferry since it came under threat again last month, and that he’s heard from people who don’t want the county to spend any more taxpayer money on the service.


Another proposal was issued last week by a Fredericktown businessman who wants to put the boat in a museum along the river.


“It’s going to take the counties and local people to keep this thing going,” Shober said Thursday.


In an attempt to draw attention to the ferry, a group of historians has created a Facebook page, Friends of Fredericktown Ferry, as a place for people to share photos and memories of the vessel, one of several used in the 200-year-old service.


“We’re just trying to get people interested,” said the page’s creator, Evan Williams, a Carmichaels native now living in Connecticut. “A lot of people don’t know it’s even still there. It’s not promoted very well.”


The page had attracted 272 fans by Friday in its first week of publication.


Williams said one of the page’s purposes is to determine if there is enough interest in raising money to keep the boat in the water.


“It’s actually a functioning piece of history,” he said.


The boat used to carry 200 vehicles a day, mostly driven by employees of the State Correctional Insitution-Fayette, which is across the river from Fredericktown. That number has dropped nearly in half since the new bridge opened in July.


Bower said more people would use the ferry if its hours of operation were reliable.


“If they knew it was going to be open they’d use it,” he said.


Zimmerlink said she isn’t aware of any issues with the boat being out of operation during normal hours.


She said the commissioners have not set a deadline for making a decision on the future of the ferry.


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