Ferry Days Gone By

Ferry Days Gone By

Cleo Jenkins Retires after 57 Years Operating Ferries.

This Is Cleo Jenkins Story from 1972.

After more than half a century, an era may be coming to an end – as Mr. Cleo Jenkins, operator of the Washington Ferry for nearly 30 years and other ferries for 27, is retiring.

It all started 57 years ago in 1915, when Mr. Jenkins was but a lad of eight. His father ran a ferry boat when the water was so shallow “a man could and did drive a Model T up and down the river.” Indians were just beginning to leave the county then, too. Mr. Jenkins remembered one Indian who came up the river in a canoe and decided to spend the night with his folks – he didn’t sleep a wink all night because he’d heard stories about Indians – that was one visitor he was glad to see travel on.

The “passengers” boarding the ferry in those days were a little different, too – most customers came on market day in buggies and wagons with their pigs, chickens, mules, cattle, hay, corn, and other produce. The ferry boat at that time was made of wood and was about 30 or 40 feet long, equipped with twelve-foot-long oars. (I bet that put muscles on a fella.)

Today, the ferry boat has changed a great deal. A power wheel has replaced the oars; metal has replaced the wooden frame; and the boat has been enlarged to accommodate cars and trucks that now cross the river.

Mr. Jenkins grew up with the ferry boat – it was his “School room” – his actually “book learning” may have been lacking, but his knowledge of people and places has given him a far broader education than most of us will ever receive.

“This has been a good life for me. I’ve stayed at home and watched the world go by”, he said. And yet somehow you know he hasn’t missed much. He’s made hundreds of friends on that ferry boat going back and forth across the river. “Too many to count,” he says.

When asked how many people he’d ferried in his 57 years, he said “Bowater’s don’t make enough paper to figure it up on” – an exaggeration! Maybe, and then again, maybe not.

And what will he do now? Well, he has several hobbies. One is hunting for Indian relics along the river. He has discovered several interesting pieces that must be many hundreds of years old. He and his wife both enjoy birdwatching, so he has built several very nice bird houses and is in the process of building others for the “summer residents”. He also has five beagles; and enjoys fishing. (With the river ten steps from his door, he hasn’t far to go!)

So, he’ll keep busy. But he’ll not completely give up his ferry boat operating. Charles Smith, who has been working one of the shifts for the past few years, will take over a part of the duties but Mr. Jenkins will still be helping out – good ferry boatmen are hard to find!

The Washington Ferry is one of the few ferries left in the South and Mr. Jenkins says he thinks that in a few years a bridge will be built, putting the ferries out of business – people want a more convenient mode of transportation. But one can’t help wondering if with the disappearance of the ferry, a part of our heritage might not also disappear. Will we then have to tell our grandchildren about the “Days Gone By” and the good old days? – But whatever the story, Mr. Jenkins is bound to be a part of it.

Posted with permission from the publisher of the Herald News in Dayton. Original publish date was March 7,1972  in the “Days Gone By” section.

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Published byDean

Born and raised in Dayton Tennessee, I have served in various public service positions in the past. I have a great interest in the History of our town. This site is a way for me to share some of the great history of the area.

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