The West Jersey Ferry (Excerpted)

The Arctic - built in 1879 for The West Jersey Ferry

Excerpted from History of Camden County, New Jersey, George Reeser Prowell, 1885

THE WEST JERSEY FERRY, familiarly known as “The Market Street Ferry,” extends from Market Street, Camden, to Market Street, Philadelphia, and is now, and has long been one of the leading lines of· transportation across the Delaware between the two cities.

This ferry was established about 1800 by Abraham Browning, Sr., an intelligent and enterprising farmer of the territory now braced in Stockton Township. His father-in-law, George Genge, at that time had a board-yard at the foot of the street. Abraham Browning built a ferry-house on the south side of Market Street, on the site the large store building of the Taylor Brothers, on the corner of Market Street and Second.

He also put up stables for the reception of horses and vehicles, as the boats at that time used on this ferry, as on all others on Delaware, were small row-boats or wherries and of insufficient size and capacity for conveyance of the market teams. Sails used to propel the wherries when the wind was fair, and in the absence of wind, oars were applied; but if the winds were adverse and strong, the boats awaited until the Fates were more propitious. Farmers usually unloaded their produce and left their tea the east side of the river, while they went to market or attended to other business in Philadelphia. Abraham Browning improved the accommodations for landing by adding sufficient wharfing. The original place of landing of his boats at the times of high tide, however, was near the site of his ferry-house, a long distance inland from the present landing-place, all the land intervening being “made ground,” in the language of the common populace. When he completed the erection of his ferry-house, Mr. Browning moved from his farm into it, and operated his ferry for about one year. Disliking the business, he had either as lessees or superintendents various parties, among whom were James Springer, Peter Farrow, Benjamin Springer, William S. Paul and Edward Browning. He continued to be the owner of this ferry until the time of his death, in 1836. It then passed into the possession of his heirs, who conducted it as their property until 1849. It was long known as the “Browning Ferry.” In 1849 a charter was obtained, as is evidenced by the following:

“Whereas, Abraham Browning, Maurice Browning, Charles Browning, Edward Browning, Eleanor Browning and Catharine Browning now own the ferries between Market Street, in the city of Camden, and the city of Philadelphia, with the real estate, boats, ships and appendages belonging thereto, which property not being in its nature susceptible of division without great prejudice, and liable to embarrassment or inconvenience by death or other misfortune while thus jointly held, the said owners desire to be incorporated, that they may, with greater security to themselves and advantage to the public, improve said ferries.”

The name was the West Jersey Ferry Company, and Abraham Genge, Maurice, Charles and Edward Browning were made directors by the act, to serve as such until October following, when others were to be elected and the number of directors increased to nine. This was the second of the ferries to pass into the hands of an incorporated company, the Federal Street Ferry having passed into the hands of the Camden and Philadelphia Ferry Company nine years before and the Kaighn’s Point Ferry to the South Camden Ferry Company three years later.

The presidents of the company have been Joseph Porter, William Clark and James B. Dayton; secretaries and treasurers, Edward Browning, Isaac Porter, Amos Rudderow. Benjamin Sutton, was the first superintendent, taking charge in 1849, followed by Daniel Bishop, and in 1852 by William Morrell, who remained until January, 1857, when John G. Hutchison, who had been master-mechanic, was appointed and has since continuously held the position.

When James Springer conducted the Ferry, in 1809, the boats landed within a short distance of the hotel on Front Street, but when the Browning heirs took charge, thirty years later, the shore was moved westward by wharfing, extending the slips and. filling up the low ground until the site of the terminus of the old ferry is many hundred feet inland, and the timbers of the Mariner, William Penn and Southwark lie buried under Delaware Street, where they were moored when no longer serviceable.

In 1849 the company built the West Jersey Hotel, a large, handsome building, of which Israel English sometime afterwards took and retained charge until his death.

When the company was incorporated there were three boats connected with the ferry, Farmer, Southwark, and William Penn. The first two were replaced that year by the Mariner and the Merchant, much larger boats. The William Penn was rebuilt in 1857. The Mechanic was built in 1856 by John Bender. The America was built in 1867. The next boat was the Columbia, an iron boat, built in 1877, with iron wheel-houses, gallies, frames and engine-house, the first ferry-boat on this river so completely fireproof. The Arctic, in 1879, and Baltic in 1884 followed. These are almost twin boats, with improvements upon the Columbia and larger, the dimensions of the Baltic being: length of keel, one hundred and forty-five feet of deck, one hundred and fifty-seven feet; beam, thirty feet over all, fifty-four feet; with engines of forty-inch cylinder and ten feet stroke. They are all powerful boats and crunch ice of formidable thickness. There has been no mishap causing loss of life on this ferry since its establishment. In 1883 the Pennsylvania Railroad Company bought a majority of the stock and that corporation now controls the ferry. James B. Dayton was president for many years. The present board of directors is composed of Edmund Smith, president; William J. Sewell, Wilbur F. Rose, Wistar Morris, Maurice Browning, Peter L. Voorhees, John F. Starr, Edward Roberts, Henry D. Welsh. John F. Joline is secretary and treasurer, and John G. Hutchison is superintendent.


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