Fulton's Last Ferry 

FerryThe caption under this photo reads, "This is the way the river-front looked in the early 1900s.  The three warehouses were built in the 1850s to handle river business.  The two frame ones are presently in use.  The side walls of the stone-building are standing.  All of them will be razed when the permanent dyke is built.  The frame structure at the extreme right is the freight-depot at the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Co. built in 1855. It was razed about 1964 when the Fidelity Life Association bought the ground.  The small ferry-boat is the W. Harlock.  It steamed away in 1918 and never returned.

This information comes from articles in a scrapbook shared with us by Jan Hanson and the FCCFH. It is excerpts from articles published in the Fulton Journal, 01 May 1985 and 13 Apr 1988. There are many interesting stories embedded in these articles, but I tried to stick to names and dates.

The first ferry at the present site of Fulton was an Indian canoe.  The simple boat was used for a time after the white settlers arrived.  In 1838, Charles Lunt came up-river on a steamboat, when ashore at New York which was the name the first settlers used for a short time, walked to Lyons City and crossed the Mississippi to what may have been called Baker's Ferry in a large canoe.  New York was soon changed to Clinton and Baker's Ferry became Fulton.

Ferries were licensed in Whiteside County in 1840.  The cost was $10.  The county commissioners fixed the fares (which were quite high considering the times and the fact that money was almost non-existent) -- 25 cents for a footman, man and horse 75 cents, horse and wagon $1, cattle 25 cents per head, yoke of oxen and loaded wagon $1.50, and hogs and sheep 12 1/2 cents per head (a 'shilling').

R. J. Jenks and others were the owners of the first ferry.  They hewed the sides out of a large tree and purchased planks from a mill in Genesee Township.  There was a scarcity of manpower in the settlement, so the men slid the boat into the river, bottom up.  They loaded rocks along one side and tied ropes to two corners.  The weight of the rocks, the current and the men turned it over.

Caleb Clark received a license to operate a ferry at Fulton on March 2, 1840.

In June, 1841, Royal Jacobs obtained an extension to complete the building of a horse-powered ferry.  John Baker bought it and sold it to Orlando Sprague and Daniel Lamberton.  In January, 1844, John Baker's nephew John W. Baker bought one-half interest for $800.  At that time, the property included a horse-ferry, yawl boat and utensils.

In 1850, William Knight became owner, buying it from Augustin Phelps.  Captain Knight brought the first steamboat, the Sarah, to Fulton on May 3, 1854. There is an article in the Whiteside Investigator announcing it's arrival with the headline "Ho! The Ferry!"

The Sarah was replaced by 1860 by the much larger Queen City. On April 30, 1860, the Fond du Lac Mining and Lumber Co. was moving to Colorado and the Queen City transferred 32 Wagons and 132 yokes of Oxen along with a quartz crusher.  Quite a load!

There is little information about ferries in the 1860s.  By 1874, Captain Tanner was running the Lyons City during the day.  James Crashaw took passengers across any time of the night in a rowboat.  In the winter of 1878, James Holleran put runners on a skiff and pushed it across on the ice.

The Lyons City continued to run until 1884.  Stephen Briggs received a ten-year license.

Business was good in the 1870s and 80s.  The ferry at Fulton transferred as many as 20 families, traveling west in their covered wagons, per day, although the average was less. In June, 1875, the Lyons City transferred 100 cattle, 2 horses, loaded wagon and the usual number of passengers. In June, 1883, she transferred the Van Armbrugh's Circus which had 40 wagons of animals and equipment for a cost of $35. 

A new ferry was built in the winter of 1883-84 by J. P. Morgan.  The boat was laid at the end of Fifth Avenue in Clinton.  The boat was built for Stephen Briggs and a Mr. Gage of Lyons.  Everything on the boat was new.  That was unusual, as it was customary to salvage material from old boats.  It was named J. P. Gage and was 114 feet long with a 32-foot beam and 5 1/2-foot hold.  There was a large foredeck for carrying teams, vehicles and animals. 

The J. P. Gage was in service until the Lyons and Fulton High Bridge was opened July 4, 1891.

There was a price war between the bridge and the ferry.  The boat carried foot passengers free for a time.  In April, 1901, the bridge allowed pedestrians and passengers to cross the bridge for one cent.  In July, 1915, bridge officials purchased two 'horseless carriages' to replace the horse-drawn omnibus.  The J. P. Gage withdrew at an unremembered date and went to Dardanelle, Ark.

W. Harlock began to operate a ferry at an unrecorded time.  On Oct. 2, 1900, he was using the boat Bertha and a barge.  He sold the Bertha in 1901.  His next ferry was the Nina Dousman and, perhaps, a small launch.

The Nina was using a new and improved fuel -- slack coal, tar and coal dust pressed into nuggets.  Her destination was revealed to the knowing ones --- three toots meant she was headed for Lyons, four for Fulton.  One busy day in July, 1905, she carried 400 passengers.  Many of them were headed for Mount Pleasant Park to hear W. J. Bryan.

W. Harlock had a new ferry built in 1905.  It was named after him.  There were four W. Harlocks then -- father, son, grandson and boat.

Ferriage was troubled with sand bars and the long walk out to the end of the government pier.  It was located on the dam near the end of Tenth Avenue.  When the bridge company started bus service in 1915, it was the beginning of the end.

In 1918, W. Harlock steamed away to the Illinois-Mississippi Canal (now called the Hennepin) and later put to work in Chicago.