|Ferries on the French Broad River in Sevier County|
|Sunday, 15 March 2009 23:38|
This article originally appeared in a Smoky Mountain Historical Society journal. No copyright infringement is intended by including it here.
Sevier County is known to have had at least four crossings (landings) on the French Broad River. A ferry was a boat operated by a ferryman at the crossing. The boat carried people, animals, vehicles and other property across the river.
The ferry landings also served as loading docks for flatboats and barges carrying farm produce to Knoxville and later for the steamboats bringing mail and a variety of supplies from Knoxville to the local stores and returning with produce from farmers who lived along the way.
The ferries were operated privately but under the authorization and supervision of the County Court. The court specified the name of the ferry, sometimes the name of the operator, and fixed the rates to be charged.
Sevier County Court Minutes with ferry information from 1796 to 1856 were lost in the courthouse fire of March 26, 1856.
Although the Tennessee General Assembly passed House Bill No. 805 on April 24, 1899 authorizing Sevier County to establish and maintain free ferries and $125.00 was paid to two ferry owners for boats in 1905, documentation has not been found to prove free ferry transportation.
Unless the river could be crossed at the site of a ford where the water was shallow, a ferry was the only means of transportation across the river from 1788 believed to be the first year of operation of the Evans Ferry, until a temporary steel bridge was constructed by TVA at the Douglas Dam site in 1942. Douglas Dam was closed on February 19, 1943, and the temporary steel bridge was demolished soon afterward.
The 873 foot long five span steel truss bridge originally known as the Swan bridge near Dandridge was purchased by Sevier County from TVA at a cost of $10,000 in July 1942. The bridge was relocated by TVA near the site of the Kyker Ferry and was opened to the public the second week in February, 1944. At this time the last two ferries, the Kyker and the Hodge, were discontinued.
The four ferry landings are shown on the map in the center fold (of the original article) as Roman numerals I, II, III, IV. Map is available in the original article, available from SMHS. See http:// www.smokykin.com/smhs/
Landing No. I
Abraham McCleary Ferry
The McCleary Ferry was located near the mouth of Dumplin Creek at present Pollard Road. Abraham McCleary had North Carolina Land Grant No. 1021 for 200 acres on the French Broad River at the mouth of Dumplin Creek dated Dec. 26, 1791. Later, he received a Tennessee land grant for 381 acres on the south side of the river.
On May 6, 1794, the Knox County Court granted the petition of Abraham McCleary to keep a public ferry at his landing on the French Broad River.
Ferry rates were established as follows:
Single person .06-1/4 cents
The rating table concluded: "When water exceeds 6 feet of common water double rates and if the water is over 12 feet disgression is left with the ferryman".
On October 31, 1818, Abraham McCleary willed property including the ferry landing on the south bank to his daughter, Patsy (Martha). The site was known as the "Bent Tract". Patsy (Martha) married Stephen A. Underdown. Stephen Underdown then acquired the ferry landing on the north bank from Patsy's sister, Sally McCleary.
The Underdown Ferry succeeded the McCleary Ferry at the same location.
Stephen A. Underdown, son-in-law of Abraham McCleary, operated the ferry and a store near the ferry landing.
After the death of his wife Martha in 1856, Stephen A. Underdown deeded the ferry property to his sons Joseph B., Gilbert W., William, and Pleasant Underdown on May 2, 1857.
An entry in Patrick Henry's Day Book in July, 1858, states "Paid to Stephen Underdown 2 ferrages at 10 cents each - 20 cents. In October, 1860, "S. A. Underdown ferrage - 10 cents.[ll] On April 16, 1873, the south side of the ferry was purchased by Henry and Edmond S. Hodges - a total of 140 acres including the ferry landing. The ferry landing on the north bank also served as a loading dock for steamboats. A warehouse was located at the top of a high bank next to the "Big Road" as it was called then. From this warehouse a shoot or trough was built to go all the way to the river. People of the community would bring supplies they wanted to send to Knoxville to the warehouse and store them until the next steamboat came by. On October 1, 1900, following the death of Joseph B. Underdown on July 1, 1898, the administrator of the estate, G. W. Underdown, sold 91 acres on the French Broad River including "the Ferry Bank at the mouth of Dumplin Creek" to Isaac L. and George H. Smith.
On July 11, 1900, Isaac L. and George H. Smith sold the Underdown Ferry to Edmond S. Hodges who owned the south bank of the river.
The Hodges Ferry succeeded the Underdown Ferry at the same location. The HODGES ferry is not be be confused with the HODGE ferry farther up the river.
Edmond S. Hodges was operating the ferry in 1898 as proven by the following County Court record:
On Thursday October 4, 1898, it was ordered by the court that the following rates of ferrage be fixed for the E. S. Hodges Ferry:
4 Horse wagon - .40 cents 2 Horse wagon - .20 cents 4 Horse hack - .20 cents 1 Horse buggy - .15 cents 1 Horse rider - .10 cents Footman - .05 cents Steam Engine Team - .50 cents
The ferry was not operating in 1904 according to county records. John W. Hodges (1871-1932) operated the Hodges Ferry from about 1920 to 1924 or shortly after. About this time the ferry boat was destroyed probably by high river tides and wind and was not replaced.
The Hodges Ferry had been operated privately as well as publicly. The Hodges family used the ferry to transport farm tools and animals from their farm on the south bank of the river.[l6]
Kenny Hodges remembers his father telling about hauling sheep. For some reason, the sheep broke the rail on the side of the ferry boat causing the sheep to learn to swim very quickly.
Landing No. II
The Evans Ferry was located on a branch of the Great Indian War Path traversed by Col. William Christian as he led an expedition against the Cherokees in 1776. The Path crossed the French Broad River near the mouth of Boyds Creek to the Big Island (Buckingham Island). During the night a large detachment had been sent to ford the river at a place now known as Christian's War Ford near the Gallops and to come up the river on its south bank to rejoin Christian's troops at the Big Island. The crossing at the Big Island also is known as Christian's War Ford.
Andrew Evans was living on the land in 1787 as proven by North Carolina Land Grant No. 1268 dated September 20, 1787: "Andrew Evans, assn. of James Hubbert, 250 acres in Greene County (now Sevier) on the north side of the French Broad River in the first bent below Christian's War Ford against the Big Island running down the river on the north side of the French Broad opposite the mouth of Boyds Creek beginning at a tree at a spring above the Rock House thence up the several meanders of the river bank direct to beginning. " 
The Evans Ferry was in operation in 1788-89 as proven by the following deed:
On January 19, 1789, John Sevier and Thomas Buckingham for 1200 Spanish milled dollars a deed was transferred in Greene County for land known by the name of Big Island on the French Broad River, being 357-1/2 acres which island is about 200 yards above Evans Ferry.
Andrew Evans received permission from the Greene County Court to operate a Public Ferry in 1790:
"Ordered that Andrew Evans have leave to keep a ferry on French Broad River at his plantation agreeable to the rates established at August term last. Enters into security in the sum of 500 pounds on condition that he will provide good and sufficient boats and attend the same and in case of damage, pay for the same. " 
Two years later in 1792, the Greene County Court gave John Evans permission to operate a Public Ferry: 
"John Evans hath leave to keep a Public Ferry on French Broad River at his plantation and enter unto bond himself with James Gibson, his security, in the sum of 500 pounds on condition that he will constantly keep good and sufficient boats. "
It is believed that the John Evans Ferry was at the same location as the Andrew Evans Ferry. The Greene County Court Minutes of May, 1792 state:
"Ordered that a road be laid off from the mouth of Boyds Creek to the gap of Bays Mountain crossing the river at John Evans thence to Sinking Creek."
The Brabson Ferry succeeded the Evans Ferry at the same location.
A document of "intent to sell property" recorded by Joseph Evans and Nathaniel Evans for John Brabson II and dated April 16, 1798, mentions as a boundary line "bluff of rocks below the ferry". After the property transaction took place the ferry was operated by John Brabson II and subsequently by his heirs until 1918.
The winter of 1918 was extremely cold. The French Broad River was a bed of ice. Even wagon teams crossed the river on the bed of ice. When the spring thaw came the ice began to thaw and break up. As the ice broke the ferry boat was swept from its moorings and carried down the river. The damage was so extensive that the ferry was not rebuilt.
Landing No. III
The Hodge Ferry was located on a tract of the John Kerr, Sr., plantation on the French Broad River. The land on the south bank was surveyed 15 July 1807 and Tennessee Land Grant No. 360 for 138 acres was issued 30 Sept. 1808. An additional 346 acres on the north bank of the river was surveyed 23 Feb. 1831, and a Tennessee Land Grant was issued 3 Aug. 1832.
In his will dated 17 Feb. 1836 John Kerr, Sr., divided his estate among his wife Martha and his sons John and Daniel and daughters Polly and Fatha who married (2) G.W. Petty.
The ferry site was inherited by Mary E. Petty, the wife of Alfred A. Hodge. Mary E. Petty was the daughter of Fatha Kerr Petty.
Fatha Petty, age 84, was living with the Alfred Hodge family in the 1880 census.
The Sevier County Court Minutes do not record the date that Alfred A. Hodge (1843-1910) was given permission to operate a ferry on the French Broad River.
A map entitled "Geologic Atlas of the United States, Knoxville, Folio 16, 1895" only shows the Underdown, Brabson, and Ellis ferries. On Jan. 3, 1899, the County Court Minutes list the Al Hodge and Ellis ferries as potential free ferries.
In 1977, Mr. Fred Rawlings recalled a trip he took with his father in the year 1904 or 1905. Hauling in a buggy a Woodmen of the World monument to be placed in the Beech Springs Baptist Church cemetery, they turned right off of Old Sevierville Pike near the Bob Catlett place. The distance from there to the French Broad River was about one-half mile. On reaching the ferry, they found buggies lined up waiting to cross. After a long wait, the horse finally was led on to the ferry boat. Some people unhitched their horses and held their reins as horses sometimes were frightened by the creaking cable and churning of the water against the boat.
On the return trip they found the same situation on the north bank -- buggies lined up waiting to cross. At the time Mr. Bruce Hodge (1867-1953), son of Alfred Hodge, was the ferryman.
Mr. Otha Hodge, son of Rev. Bruce Hodge, was the last operator of the Hodge Ferry.
Mrs. Glen (Dorothy Hodge) Hicks of Union Valley Road, a daughter of Mr. Otha Hodge, recalls many interesting facts about the Hodge Ferry:
"Before the ferry the Alfred Hodge family owned flat boats that were used to carry grain and livestock to Knoxville and to transport farm produce from the island nearby.
My Dad, Otha B., was born May 3, 1897. In the early twenties he began operating the ferry for my grandfather, Bruce Hodge. A 0.15 fee was charged for crossing the river one way. In the early thirties the county changed the amount to 0.15 one way; 0.25 round trip Inclement weather played a big part in running the ferry. Winds, floods, and ice hampered the operation at times. My dad was faced with the river freezing in the winter. I heard him tell that when the ice thawed and broke into pieces the current would take everything in its path. He said that once ice demolished the ferry boat leaving only splinters for the floor. I can remember the last time the ice froze in 1939. When the "mush" ice began to form my dad moved the boat to the south side of the river where the current was not as strong. When the ice began to move out the boat had survived without damage.
When severe rains would cause flooding he would tie the boat to large trees along the bank. He would have to watch while the water was receding in order to keep the boat gradually pushed into the water. The mud would be so bad cars would get stuck trying to board the ferry.
High wind also would shut down the ferry because it was impossible to steer the boat in such conditions.
My dad was innovative and looked for ways to better serve the people. In the late twenties or early thirties he built a new boat that continued to be in operation until the closing of the ferry. It was very modern for the time. It carried six cars in comparison to the former boat which carried three. He installed an object called an "Apron" made of wood which had hinges and was chained to the boat deck. The "Apron" was lifted when cars were aboard and served as a safety device.
The Apron did not prevent one tragic accident.
One foggy morning before daylight a car carrying five men who were working at the Douglas Dam project apparently missed the road leading to the dam taking the ferry road instead. They ran onto the ferry boat breaking the apron chains and into the river drowning all five men. My dad heard the crash and finding the apron broken notified the authorities. The car was found submerged at the end of the boat but no bodies. They did find five lunch boxes. They kept dragging the river and by late afternoon all five bodies had been found.
My dad also had a strong wire anchored on each side of the river that was attached to the boat on the gown stream banister. When the current was low he would turn the reel a certain degree (the reel was what held the cable). He took a piece of wood, made a notch on one side and wrapped it around the wire so he could pull the boat making it cross the river much faster. My dad had several of these sticks made. At times customers would help so the boat would move even faster.
Once he built a tug type boat with an attached outboard motor. He used it sometimes to push the boat across the river.
After Douglas Dam was completed and the gates were closed the river was so low it was impossible for the boat to move from the landing.
When the lake was filled and the gates were lifted the depth of the river would fluctuate and it was impossible to know where to anchor the boat. My dad at times would find the boat out in the river. Other times when the water level would fall the boat would be caught on the bank with one end under water. This caused my dad to become very discouraged. He continued to operate the ferry until 1944 when the bridge was completed.
My dad sold the ferry to a sand and gravel company in Knoxville. He then moved his family to Knoxville where he found work".
Mr. Otha Hodge died January 19, 1967.
Beulah Linn recalls crossing the river on the Hodge Ferry sometime in the late 1920's.
"My father had purchased our first auto and we were on our way to visit my grandparents on Upper Middle Creek. Our car was the first car on the ferry boat. The ferryman advised us to stand on the deck beside the car for the crossing.
It was a new experience. The river seemed so wide. After the boat began to move we children were frightened by the creaking of the cable and the churning of the water against the side of the boat, with some of the water splashing onto the deck. My father held the hand of two children and my mother the other two. We were glad to reach the south bank".
Mrs. Reba Caughron Hood recalls riding the Hodge Ferry:
"During the 1942-43 school year my job was teacher-principal at the Underwood School. Although only a few actual miles from my home on Middle Creek road near Pigeon Forge, the land being divided by the river made the Underwood Community seem very far from home.
Our country was experiencing gas rationing since we were in a wartime economy, therefore, I needed to board away from home. Fortunately, my home away from home was with a pleasant couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Ella Keener.
There were challenges when considering going home for the weekend. Weather conditions controlled the French Broad River and whether or not one could cross on any given weekend. If the river was out-of-banks, winds too strong, or ice on the river weekend plans quickly changed.
The road leading down to the river was blocked with heavy chains in front of and back of the ferry when the vehicles were stationed. After the fees were collected it was time to start across.
Mr. Otha Hodge was the owner, manager, and operator. He controlled the cable attached to the ferry boat. Mr. Hodge enjoyed talking to his clients during the crossing most of whom were the same people day in and day gut. It was rare to see a stranger on board.
Looking back over time, these half-hour trips across the river that once seemed commonplace are now seen as memorable and representing a significant period in our local Sevier County, Tennessee, history."
Landing No. IV
Hubbert's Ferry was located in the first bend of the French Broad River east of the mouth of Little Pigeon River.
James Hubbert received North Carolina land grants for over 2500 acres north of the French Broad River. Deed records from 1787 to 1795 show that he sold the land except his own plantation.
Cherel Henderson describes the site of Hubberts Ferry as it appeared in 1987:
"The site of Hubbert's plantation today is still beautiful, serene and pastoral. The placid French Broad River, a ribbon of silver and blue, flows onward to join with the Holston. Across the river the eternal mountains tower in the distance. A red barn and twin silos nestle against the hills. Grazing cattle are dark dots on the rolling green plains . . . As I drive down the road leading to Hubberts' old ferry a rabbit darts in front of the car. " 
In February, 1792, James Hubbert "hath leave to keep a Public Ferry over the French Broad River near his own house "as recorded in the Greene County Court Minutes. At the same session the Court appointed James Hubbert overseer of a road from Wilson Road to his own ferry.
Sometime between 1813 and 1823, James Hubbert's ferry was taken over by Allen S. Bryan Sr., husband of James Hubbert's daughter, Betty.
East Tennessee Land Grant No. 8286 was issued to Allen Bryan on 29 May 1823 for 20 acres on the North Side of the French Broad River "beginning on the bank of said river just above Bryan's boat landing to stake line of said Bryan's former survey including BRYAN'S FERRY LANDING. " 
William Ellis (1793-1878) owned the land of the ferry landing on the south bank of the river.
After the death of Allen S. Bryan, Sr. in 1839 his second wife Elizabeth McSpadden Bryan, continued to oversee the operation of the plantation until her death in 1862.
Apparently John Ellis was the ferry operator as recorded in Patrick Henry's Day Book "July 8, 1859 - two ferrages to John Ellis $1.20".
On Monday, July 7, 1862, the Sevier County Court ordered that James Ellis be allowed the privilege of keeping a public ferry boat at Bryan's Ferry and he be required to give bond according to law.
The Sevier County Court Minutes of April 6, 1863, state: "Ordered by the Court that Public Ferry Keepers in Sevier County shall demand and receive the following rates on ferrages:
Six horse wagon $1.00 Four horse wagon .75 cents Two horse wagon .50 cents Two horse buggy .50 cents One horse buggy .25 cents Man and horse .10 cents Man on foot .05 cents Cattle per head .25 cents Lead horses .03 cents
The Sevier County Court Minutes of April 5, 1870, state: "Ordered by the Court that all the ferries can only charge .10 in all cases for getting a man and his horse across the river".
William Ellis in his will written in 1872 and probated Dec. 2, 1878, gave the Ellis Ferry to his son, John Ellis.
The ferry was still going by the name of Bryan's Ferry on January 6, 1879, when the county court appointed James Ellis as "overseer of the road from Bryan's Ferry to the forks of the road near the white mill and he is required to keep the same in lawful repairs as a second class road with the hands on the following farms".
On Monday, April 5, 1880, the County Court again made changes in the rates that a ferryman in Sevier County could demand:
Footmen .05 cents Man and horse .10 cents Each additional horse .05 cents Cattle - each head .05 cents One horse wagon .20 cents Two horse carriage .25 cents Sheep and hogs each head 2-1/2 cents
"And the ferryman is required to enter into bond as the law directs for his faithful per finance as such. "
The Kyker Ferry followed the Ellis Ferry at the same location.
Andrew Jackson Kyker (1853-1905) a school teacher in the 1880 census, purchased the ferry landing on the south banks of the French Broad River July 3, 1901, from Miss Kate Ellis of Catlettsburgh for the sum of $155.00 the land "being my one-eighth undivided interest in the John Ellis farm having been willed to him by my grandfather, Rev. William Ellis.
Said premises are free of encumbrances except the life estate of her father, John Ellis".
Mr. Earl S. Ailey recalls that a Kyker farm of 52 acres was known as "the Ellis tract".
The ferry landing on the north bank was used with the permisssion of the descendants of the Hugh and Nancy Ellis Goforth family who owned the property.
Following the death of Andrew J. Kyker in 1905 his son, J. Arthur Kyker (1880-1967) was the chief operator of the ferry until it was discontinued the second week in February, 1944.
The Kyker Ferry boat was sold to a dairy in Knox County.
Mr. Ralph Sims of Ridge Road has prepared a diagram showing the location and operation of the ferries as he and Mr. Fred Valentine remember them.
The Kyker Ferry was located on the river near the present Smoky Mountain Knife Works about a mile off Highway 66.
Mr. Tommy Hickman assisted Mr. Arthur Kyker as a ferryman in the 1920's. Mr. Clifford Atchley was a ferryman in the 1930's. A large tall pole on each side of the river bank about 100 yards above the ferry boat held a steel cable. Another steel cable on a pulley extended from the steel cable between the poles to the wheel house on the ferry boat. When the wheel was turned in the wheel house either end of the boat could be turned up river about 200 degrees. The force of the current moved the ferry boat.
The ferryman charged 25 cents per car for the crossing.
The ferries on the French Broad River were an integral part of Sevier County history.
Ferries helped to open the area south of the French Broad River for settlement as early as 1788 and perhaps earlier as we have no record of how long Andrew Evans lived at the ferry site before he received a North Carolina land grant.
The Knoxville Gazette of June 19, 1795, reported that James Armstrong of Abingdon, Virginia had opened a store at Evans Ferry 15 miles from Knoxville, selling dry goods, cutlery, pewter, and salt in exchange for cash, beef cattle, bear, deer, and fur skins.
The site of the Underdown Ferry was an important commercial center. Beginning in January, 1887, a great deal of activity took place at the Underdown Ferry, especially on the north bank where structures had been built by the Scottish Carolina Lumber and Land Company for the purpose of catching, holding, and storing logs and timber floating down the river.
The Underdown Post office opened March 2, 1890, with William P. Keener as postmaster.
The south bank of the river later owned by the Hodges family was the site of the Edward Hodges Sand and Soil Company on McCleary Road.
The south bank of the Brabson Ferry was a center of commercial activity.
The John Brabson and Company Store was built in the early 1800's. An old store ledger shows purchases made as early as 1819. Associated with the Brabson Store were a tannery, flour mill, blacksmith shop, and brick kiln. The post office was located in the store from 1821 to 1911. The store was in operation from 1819 to 1942, a total of 123 years.
The road at the Brabson Ferry was on the trail of the Great Indian War Path from Virginia which crossed the French Broad River near Buckingham Island and followed Boyd's Creek to its source and then descended into the Little River Valley.
Some older folks in 1998 remember the Hodge and Kyker ferries, the last of Sevier County's ferries. As one citizen expressed it, "The ferries really were a blessing as it was the only way to get to or from north of the river".
The French Broad River ferries provided for river-borne trade and travel from 1788 to 1944, a period of 156 years.
1. Weals, Vic, The Golden Age of Steamboating on the French Broad River, S.M.H.S. Newsletter, Vol XI No. 3, 76-80
|Last Updated on Monday, 16 March 2009 00:15|