March 18th, 2015

Daniel Caldwell (1775-1836), whose home stood on the west bank of the river near White Deer, established the ferry around 1801.  Caldwell propelled his boats across the river between Watsontown and White Deer Mills by poles in low water and oars when the river ran high.

When Caldwell died in 1836 the ferry franchise was purchased by Henry High (1816-1857).  High decided to stretch a cable from shore to shore and use the current to propel the ferry.  The cable was made of one-and-three-quarter inch thick rope but it didn’t work.  Wet weather produced a contraction and in the dry heat of the summer it expanded and dragged in the water.  When all else went well, raftsmen on the river had their own ways of making sure the rope didn’t impede their progress.  An axe was most useful.  High finally gave up and went back to poles and oars.

High, in 1854, sold stock in his company to John Bly (1813-1883), John L. Watson (1801-1889) and others, and they revived the cable idea, only this time they purchased what is now known as wire rope.  The cable was purchased from John A. Roebling (1806-1869) of Trenton, NY, who engineered the Niagara suspension bridge.  This time it was a success and the ferry line flourished for many years.

In 1873, the ferry became sole property of Captain John Bly and for the next 55 years the ferry would be run by one or another member of the Bly family.  When John died in December of 1883 his son William R. Bly (1844-1908) purchased the ferry and the farm property on the east bank of the river which was located just north of the present bridge.  On Saturday, July 25, 1896 William christened his new ferry, the Red Swan.

In 1905 William sold the ferry to his nephew, David L. Bly (1875-1950).  David continued running the ferry until he sold it in 1918.

The ferry continued to operate until construction began on the river bridge in July of 1927.

[The Milton Standard, August 11, 1967, pg 5, 7; The Daily Item, July 2, 1976, pg 20A; [The Record and Star, July 31, 1896]

Last Modified: 05.04.12

One Response

  1. Jo in Melbourne Aus Says:

    Daniel Calwell (correct spelling with no D) was my husband’s 3x great grandfather. Two of his sons Davis and Dan emigrated to Australia in 1853 to seek their fortunes in the goldfields. They didn’t find much gold but Davis married and had a large family and many descendants in Australia.

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