The First Double Ended Ferry: The Menantic, 1893 - 1920

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005

    The North Ferry Company has put into service the new ferry, the Menantic. She was built by the Freeport Shipbuilding Group in Freeport, Florida. She is 130 feet long and 44 feet wide. Like the Mashomack, put into service two years ago, she can hold 25 cars. The following story is about her namesake which went into service in 1893, the first double ended ferry to serve the route between Greenport and Shelter Island.

    The first ferry serving the Heights was the Cambria. It was purchased in 1872 from Frederick Beebe by John E. Searles on behalf of the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association, and it had been converted from sail to steam powered. 
    In 1892, the Board of Trustees of the Greenport and Shelter Island Ferry Company, Inc. -- Messers J.C. Hoagland, Frederick A. Schroeder and Isaac Reeve, Jr. --  chartered the 139 ton steamboat Granite City, a large ferry, from the Westerley & Watch Hill Ferry Company for 93 days at $34 per day. The owners were to pay the insurance and keep the boat in working order, but the ferry company was to pay for “all coals, fuels, port charges, pilotages and fresh water for the boilers, a competent licensed pilot...”
    At the Board meeting on July 5, 1892, members discussed in great detail procedures for collecting fares. They set rates (10¢ for adults and 5¢ for children aged 5 to 12, and nothing for children under five accompanied by an adult), determined procedures for ferry captains to account for the day’s take, and how money was to be deposited and where, and they resolved “that every passenger, except

This 1904 photograph shows the Menantic on the way to Greenport.
officers of the company, crossing the ferry shall either pay fare and receive a ticket which shall be punched in his presence and returned to him, and all such used tickets shall be collected from the passengers before they shall leave the boats of the company or upon landing at the dock, and to be returned to the Treasurer.”
The experiment with the Granite City proved the value of adding a large  ferry to the fleet. On September 27, 1892, the Board of Trustees, consisting of Frederick Schroeder, Lemuel Burrows, and Isaac Reeve agreed to a mortgage for $20,000 with the Peoples Bank of Brooklyn, pledging all of the property present and prospective of the ferry company, and to sell bonds to build a double ended ferry and to build slips at the railroad depot, the Manhanset House and the Heights, and in Dering Harbor to accommodate the double ended ferry. They also agreed to add to the Board both John French and Thomas Wood. However, the ferry company, unable to raise the funds required to purchase the larger and more versatile boat, was dissolved on July 8, 1893 and transferred its assets, about $6,000 and the ferry under construction, to the Shelter Island and Greenport Ferry Company, incorporated with officers Frederick Schroeder, Lemuel Burrows, and Isaac Reeve.
    The first double ended steam ferry to be commissioned by the new ferry company went into service on July 10, 1893. She was side-wheeled and named the Menantic. She was 98.4 feet long by 45 feet wide with a draft of 9.2 feet. Her gross wieght was 203 tons,  and she required a crew of four. She was built of wood.  She had two lanes for horses and carriages or wagons and an upper deck for foot passengers. She was said to be able to accommodate 800 people. She was built by Robert Palmer & Son of Noank, Connecticut for $24,000. A round trip took about an hour. One way passage cost ten cents. She was to ply the channel between Greenport and Shelter Island during the summer season for 26 years. The ferry company installed slips to accommodate the Menantic at the Prospect and Manhanset houses and in Greenport on Main Street and the Railroad Wharf. She only sailed during the day-light hours.

The Menantic at the Heights slip in the 1880s or 1890s. This was indeed a busy transportation terminal.

    A mortgage for $20,000 was taken with the Peoples Trust Company of Brooklyn on August 21, 1893 which was satisfied in 1913.
    Waldo Kraemer first came to Shelter Island Heights as a ten year old boy in 1900 and in his memoir, on file at the Shelter Island Historical Society, he recalled that horses and carriages bound for Greenport would board the ferry at the Prospect slip, parade off the ferry and back on again at the Manhanset House in order to be facing in the right direction to parade off the ferry again in Greenport. This delightful exercise in dealing with horses who did not do reverse well ended after the Manhanset House burned on 1911, and that dock was no longer used.
    In 1900, the Suffolk Times reported that by early June the Menantic was now making regular trips under the command of Captain Isaac Reeve. In early October 1906, the Suffolk Times reported that the “Menantic was taken off the route Tuesday afternoon and the power boat Prospect is running from the Chequit Point dock..” That was the regular routine. The Menantic was only in service from late May to early October. The reason for the short season, of course, was that the Menantic was very expensive to operate.
    In addition, the ferry company employed the Prospect (built 1881 for $3,000) and the Neptune (built 1896 for $2,400), both naphtha (gasoline powered) launches used with scows tied to the side to carry freight, livestock, and provisions at night and from October to May. According to May Piccozzi who wrote When is a Ferry? in 1960, which is available at the Shelter Island Historical Society, “In rough weather the scow was tied on the stern of the launch instead of alongside...[they] ran from six o’clock in the morning until eleven o’clock at night.”  Crossings in the winter were cold and often wet affairs. Sometimes the ice in the Harbor was so thick, men would work continuously to cut a channel for the boats to pass through. Other times, they would drop passengers wherever they could, at the pier on Chequit Point (the Yacht Club) or even on ice at White Hill.

This 1907 photograph shows that the Menantic is no longer white. She is pulling out of the slip in the Heights.

    The May 16, 1908 issue of the Suffolk Times reported that “Harrison Tuthill’s mud digger has been working in the Heights ferry slip, getting the slip in readiness for the ferry boat Menantic, which is expected on the route today, Saturday.” That year, Clarence Sherman was the pilot. By early June the ferry was running the whole day rather than a half day. The building, which had served as a waiting room and freight house at the Chequit Point dock the preceding Fall and had been blown off the bulkhead, had been moved to the Prospect landing and converted into an express office. By July 4, the Menantic was out of commission and repairing the boilers was a more difficult job than had been originally anticipated. The Shelter Island Heights Association was forced to send to New London for a large boat because the smaller boats could not keep up with the demand. The Menantic was back in action shortly thereafter but was taken off the route for the season on October 1. The launch Prospect began making her regular trips at 3 o’clock that afternoon from Town dock in Dering Harbor.
    According to the manager of the Shelter Island and Greenport Ferry Company, Willard F. Griffing, who was also the Menantic’s captain, in 1909 the ferry was to start running from the Prospect slip on May 17. In early October 1910, she was laid up because of broken machinery. The correspondent for the Suffolk Weekly Times lamented in the October 8 issue, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to put on both the Prospect and Neptune steady for accommodation.”
    In 1911 the Menantic was painted red and put back in operation on May 15. According to the Suffolk Weekly Times correspondent, “All will be glad to welcome the double ender on the route, also the captain and his crew...”
    By October 6, 1916, “the steam ferry Menantic ... is still making trips about every hour and will continue on this schedule until the very early part of November, probably until after the election at least. This is a very good service and is appreciated by the public.  The September business has been the biggest on record.” This was the longest season on record for the ferry.
    In 1917, the Menantic began operation in early May, and in 1918 in late May. The correspondent for the Suffolk Times applauded that “the people were glad to see the genial captain on deck again, as well as to have the better accommodations.” The season was short, however, and by early October the Prospect and Neptune were landing at the North Ferry dock.

Usually, the Menantic used the ferry slip at the foot of Main Street in Greenport. But when it met the train, it used a slip at the Railroad Station. The ferry that met the Friday evening train was called the "Daddy Ferry."
   In 1919, new owners of the ferry company and the hotel proposed to the towns of Southold and Shelter Island that the towns appropriate $500 in 1920 and 1921 for the maintenance of the ferry. “This ferry,” they wrote, “has maintained generally good service during the summer months of each year when the steamer Menantic has been operated but in the fall and spring when the small boats have been used to tow scows the service has been both expensive and trying to the resident population who have been forced to make the trip and has turned back hundreds of visitors desirous of passing through the town on their return from the south shore.”
    The Suffolk Times reported in October, “The new owners have been requested to replace this float service by a suitable power driven vessel. They have obtained preliminary estimates of about $10,000 upon a double-end boat 65 feet by 24 feet capable of carrying six large cars or eight small cars and about 50 passengers. The winter income does not warrant such an outlay of capital but rather than continue the present unsatisfactory conditions they have suggested that the taxpayers of the two towns co-operate by voting $500 a year each for ten years...” Neither town agreed to assist the ferry company.
    By early January 1920, construction of a new ferry boat, the Poggatticut,  was well under way to replace the Menantic.  She was 72 tons and built by the Greenport Basin and Construction Company for $11,000. She was made of wood and powered by gasoline. She carried two life boats and life jackets for 105 adults and 12 children, and two ring life buoys. She required a licensed captain and one crew member. She was financed by a loan for the entire amount with an interest rate of 6% from George M. Boardman, an important and influential member of the Prospect community.
    The plan was to maintain a 20 minute service during the summer and a 30 minute service in the winter.
    In late May, the Menantic began her regular trips between Shelter Island and Greenport and the new boat, the Poggatticut (the Prospect House having recently been renamed the Poggatticut), had been launched. When it began to ply the waters in April, the Menantic was retired. After considerable repairs at the Greenport Basin & Construction Company yard, the Menantic was stored for the winter on the west side of Dering Harbor.
    She was sold for $15,000 and left Shelter Island in mid April 1921 to ply a new route on the Hudson River between Tivoli and Saugerties, forty miles south of Albany tucked between the river and the Catksill Mountains. In the early 1940s she was in Cape Fear, North Carolina with her top deck removed.
    The Poggatticut was joined in 1923 by the new 55 ton Shelter Island, which was built by the H. W. Sweet Shipyard and Machine Works of Greenport. She was 64 feet 10 inches in length with a beam of 28 feet. She had a draught of 5 feet 6 inches. She was made of oak and yellow pine and was powered by gasoline. She could travel eight and a half miles per hour. She cost $13,000.
    The ferry slips were all adjusted by the firm of Preston & Horton to accommodate the Poggatticut and the Shelter Island which were much smaller boats than the Menantic.
    The Menantic was named after the 400 acre Menantic Farm bounded by what is today Bowditch Road on the north, West Neck Creek on the west, Menantic Creek on the east, and West Neck Harbor on the south. It was owned by the Lord family, who built ships there in the early part of the 19th Century, from 1801 until it was subdivided and sold at auction at the Prospect Hotel on Wednesday, August 19, 1874..