Hatton Ferry connects the past and present in Buckingham County

Published 12:02 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

If you lived here in the early 1800s, there’s a good chance you took a poled ferry when going to town or on a trip. By 1825, the National Park Service puts the number at just over 1,000 operating across the nation. Now, if you want to see a poled ferry, the easiest way to do it is by going to a museum. That is, unless you live in Buckingham County. Here, the Hatton Ferry still connects Buckingham to Scottsville, just as it has for more than 140 years.

Now yes, the original wooden ferry is long gone, replaced by one that’s made of steel. But otherwise, things are very similar to the trips taken almost two centuries ago. And people from all across the area took time on Saturday, May 6 to celebrate that fact. Officials from Buckingham and Albemarle counties announced that thanks to a donation from John and Trula Wright of $105,000, the 50,000 lb. steel barge will be preserved for the future.

How does the Hatton Ferry work?

That’s the biggest question here. How, just using poles, do you haul cars and people across the James River? The answer, said Sterling Howell, is practice.

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“You just get the pole at the right angle to the river floor and push hard,” Howell said.

Hatton Ferry is Howell’s project. He takes tourists and school groups on a trip that normally takes about 45 minutes, round trip. The rules are pretty simple. No more than two cars are allowed at one time, with six people total. And the ferry itself is free of charge. Anybody can ride and you don’t have to pay a dime.

But if you’re feeling charitable, a donation is requested. It runs on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., from May through the end of October. Of course, that also depends on the water level.

A bit about its history

The Hatton Ferry got started at this site in the late 1870s. Officials on Saturday said they couldn’t give an exact date. As for the name, that came a bit later. In 1883, the federal government gave approval for a post office to go up near the ferry, and so the ferry was named Hatton in honor of the federal official who signed off on the postal deal. It remained private until 1940.

That’s when the U.S. Department of Highways took over operations. Even so, business remained steady in the mid-1980s. That’s when federal officials decided to cut the service back to just weekends and run it in May through October. Now it’s back in private hands, run by the Hatton Ferry group, a nonprofit made up of residents from both Albemarle and Buckingham counties.