If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen ...

1920: Efforts to Improve Ferry Service to Greenport

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005


The Poggatticut replaced the first double ended ferry, the Menantic, in the summer of 1920. In 1923, she was renamed the New Prospect. She served the Island during the summer from the Heights and during the other eights months of the year from a slip on Bridge Street for nearly 25 years.

    The Winter residents of Shelter Island sniffed the winds of change in the management of the Heights Association in late 1919 and early 1920, and sensed that their rather dreadful ferry service to Greenport could improve.
    For 25 years, the only decent service that carried horses and carriages or wagons and then cars had been the double ended ferry, the Menantic, which had plied the waters to Greenport only from late May through September. The only other ferry service had been by launch, most recently the Prospect and the Neptune, the rest of the year. If they needed to move horses or cars, this was done by scow lashed to the side of the launch or pulled behind. The reason the Shelter Island and Greenport Ferry Company, a subsidiary of the Shelter Island Heights Association, did not run the Menantic year-round was that her operation was very expensive. She required a crew of four and lots of coal. As she aged, she became more and more inefficient. Ferry service in the winter always operated at a loss, as it does today, so operation of the Menantic was not in the picture.
    But, when a cabal of highly competent men took control of the Heights, wrestling it out of the hands of George R. Branson who had run their own investments in Heights property to the ground, the Winter folks became optimistic. When they learned that the Ferry Company was going to build a new eight car gasoline powered double ended ferry, they petitioned the Town Board to build a slip at the end of the State Road in Dering Harbor. The Petition was received and filed by the Town Board on May 4, 1920.
    The location suggested for the slip was the lot to the West of the already operating Town Dock, where the parking lot next to the Island Food Centre is today. They wanted the Town to lease the lot from Nathan P. Dickerson, build the slip, and encourage the Ferry Company to run the new ferry, to be called the Poggatticut, in the Height’s off-season, from October 1 until the end of May. This would give the Winter residents year-round car ferry service, and for most of the year, from a location which did not require foot passengers to walk the extra three-quarters of a mile though the vacant Heights particularly in the cold, icy winter months.
    By early January 1920, construction of a new ferry boat was well under way.  According to the January 9 issue of the Suffolk Times, she was to be 65 feet long with a beam of 26 feet and a draft of 5 1/2 feet. “The motive power is to be a 50 h.p. automatic engine, built by the Automatic Machine Co. She will be propeller driven, with a flywheel and clutch at end.” The paper reported that James W. Hussey was the boat’s designer. “Each end of the boat will be built in a V shaped bow, to serve as an ice-breaker in the winter and underneath the V at each end will be a concave surface, causing the boat to push aside the broken ice, rising up and over and upon the huge cakes of ice, which heretofore have proven such a formidable obstruction to winter navigation in this harbor.”
     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 could hold eight cars. 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 Heights community. In late May, the Menantic began her regular trips between Shelter Island and Greenport and the new boat, the Poggatticut, had been launched but was not yet ready for service.
    Howard Raymond was the president not only of the Heights Association but also of the Ferry Company. Charles H. Smith was the Town Supervisor. If things had been different, the two men would have sat down together in late Spring when Mr. Raymond opened his house for the Summer, and put together a plan for the Town to build the slip and for the Ferry Company to lease it. But, they did not. The Heights was an Island unto itself. People in the Heights did not socialize with the people of the Island. They did not know each other and they did not trust each other.
    Mr. Raymond believed that the Town should build and maintain the slip. The Ferry Company already had its own slip in the Heights which they owned and maintained. They didn’t need another. The Ferry company was willing to run service to the proposed Town slip for the convenience of the Winter residents at a loss, which he estimated to be about $1,000 a year, but did not want the aggravation of owning another slip.
    The Poggatticut began service in August and the Menantic was retired and officially put up for sale. 
    The Poggatticut ran from the Heights slip throughout that year except for the lay up period required by the insurance company from December 31 noon until March 15 noon. During those two and a half months, launch service continued from the Town dock in Dering Harbor.
    There were many pitfalls to negotiate before the Island residents would get the service they wanted, and some of them were nearly fatal, but that is another story.
    Sources for this story are a file maintained by Howard Raymond and now in the archives of the Shelter Island Heights Association, Town Board minutes on file at the Town Clerk’s office, and the Suffolk Times.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.