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To the beach: A ferry trip to remember

By Staff | Jul 14, 2011

Before there was a bay bridge, there were ferries. In 1951 my grandparents took me to Ocean City for the first time. The thing that I remember the most about that long-ago trip was the ferry ride on the Chesapeake Bay from Sandy Point near Annapolis to the western shores of Kent Island. The trip from Washington, D.C., to Ocean City is about 110 miles. Just outside Washington, my grandfather would get on U.S. Route 50, which was a straight shot to the beach. We left at 4 a.m., as grandpa use to say, “I want to beat the traffic to the ferry.”

We got on the ferry at Sandy Point, Md., and nearly an hour later we came ashore at a place called Romancoke on Kent Island, Md.

The ferry was named the Old Harrington and had been in service for almost 40 years.

According to Maryland history, by May 1951, the ferries were handling 1 million vehicles and 2 million passengers annually. We got to the ferry just at daylight and sure enough grandpa’s car was almost at the front of the line. Each car was carefully loaded so that the weight of the ferry would stay equal.

Once the car was parked, we went up to the top deck. By the time the ferry left, the sun was coming up. I sat on the bench that faced the front of the boat and let the warm breeze hit my face. Grandmother stayed inside. She didn’t like the ferry ride and because of the rolling of the boat, she started to turn green around the eyes.

There was a small stand that sold hot dogs and Cokes and coffee. Grandpa brought me a coffee, which was mostly milk with just a little coffee added.

The bay had a salty water smell, and the day we crossed it became a bright sunny day. I looked up Romancoke on the computer wondering what the word meant and found that it comes from the Algonquian Indians and means “circling of the water.”

The ferry was plain with no frills. The benches were hard, and the ferryboat itself was small; but to a little boy like me it looked like the Queen Mary. It had one level for the cars and the second level was like an open observation deck.

Every now and again the ferries horn would sound. It made such a loud noise that I had to cover my ears. The reason for the horn was at the sight of a large freighter. It wasn’t really close to us, but I guess the captain wanted to let them know we were near.

Since it was in the summer around the end of July, the ferry was packed with cars and people. As my grandfather read the morning paper, I would run around the deck with newfound friends.

When we got to the other side, we all climbed back into my grandpa’s car. It was a red 1949 four-door Hudson. He opened the windshield, which you could do with older cars, and we were off to the beach. We hardly stopped at all.

In 1951 Ocean City was not a very big place. It looked like it was just a small fishing village.

Coming back from Ocean City, we were stuck in traffic as the ferries were closed due to a storm on the bay. We sat in traffic for nearly four hours. By the time we got home it was almost 3 a.m. I knew my grandparents were tired. They left the unloading of the car until the next day.

Me – I was very tired but very happy; it was the best trip of my short life. Ferry service stopped running in 1952 when the bay bridge was opened.