Before there were bridges in Franklin County, ferry boats made trade, recreation and social activities of all kinds possible.

Before there were bridges in Franklin County, ferry boats made trade, recreation and social activities of all kinds possible.

It was not until the mid -20th century that bridges were built in the county, uniquely divided by several large rivers and bays that separate the barrier islands from the mainland.

Before there were bridges, there were ferries, defined as boats that carry passengers, freight and especially vehicles across a body of water on a regular schedule.

Capt. Andrew Lansdell Wing was pivotal to the development of the system of ferries connecting Apalachicola to the east end of the county prior to the construction of the Gorrie Bridge.

Though others had tried, Wing was the first to successfully run a passenger boat between Apalachicola and Carrabelle, He began with the Gazelle,” a schooner he co-owned with one of the Yents, probably Samuel. He next bought a small steamer, the X-L, and then a steam tug, the Iola, constructed in 1881 in Carrabelle by C.L. Storrs, to run the route.

Wing sold his boats to the Carrabelle Tallahassee and Georgia Railroad when it bought the steamer Crescent City. From 1890 to 1922, with Wing at the helm, she ran a regular route between Apalachicola and Carrabelle carrying passengers to and from the Carrabelle depot. Originally named the Harry Hill, she was brought south from the St. John’s River. Wing made more than 20,000 trips on the Crescent City.

When the Crescent City ceased to operate in 1922 because the route was no longer profitable, Wing resumed his own ferry service, calling it Captain Wing’s Boat Line. He bought back the Iola, now named the J.P. Williams, running her first trip on New Year’s Day 1923. In April, the J.P. Williams was rebuilt with a new engine that burned crude oil, renamed the Jessie May after Wing’s daughter and launched by Wing in partnership with Capt. James Storrs.

The Jessie May made daily trips from Apalachicola to the Carrabelle depot and also made excursions to St. George Island.

William Lee Popham, the famous “Oyster King,” and first developer of St. George Island set up the next documented ferry service. Popham ran a hotel and restaurant on the island and sold real estate, along with managing an oyster processing business. He built a boardwalk across the island, from the bay to the gulf, for prospective buyers to view the land.

In 1906, Popham leased the Sadie J for $20 a month from African American entrepreneur Spartan Jenkins. She was an enclosed excursion boat and the first motorized vessel on the bay. In modern comfort, Popham’s clients were ferried to the oyster bars and the island.

In July 1919, his organization, the St. George Co-Operative Colony Unincorporated, purchased the Mayflower to haul freight and passengers from the mainland to the island. She was soon replaced by the Edna. They continued to ferry passengers and freight to Popham’s development until Popham’s fortunes floundered in a sea of litigation, accusations and tax liens in the early 1920s.

Popham owned one of the first automobiles in Apalachicola, a red Willys-Knight widely considered to be the most elegant car in the county. By 1926, cars had become common in the boom town and in the country at large.

During the early 1920s, when automobiles became accessible to the American middle class, ads for cars, service fuel and accessories grew more and more common in the Apalachicola Times until, in 1928, the town boasted at least three car dealerships. A demonstration of the Whippet, “an American car built in European style,” rated front page coverage. Newly mobile tourists were flocking south.

A plan was underway to build a network of highways opening Florida to tourism and the last link in the chain of westward roads was a bridge across the Apalachicola River between Apalachicola and Eastpoint. No reliable way of crossing the river existed and a detour of about 100 miles was necessary to make the crossing by land.

Individuals, but not cars, could find passage across on vessels bearing freight. During the early 1920s, newspaper articles mention a boat called the Wave, in particular, as a means of passage from shore to shore, although it is unclear where she docked on the east side or if there were regularly scheduled trips.

But that’s another story. Next week, the Short Cut and the Save Time come to Eastpoint.