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COLUMN: Fords, foot logs and ferries

While a four-lane bridge crosses the Pee Dee River now, those in times past had to ford the river or use a ferry.
J.A. Bolton

Seems nowadays when we drive down the road and cross a bridge, we don’t even think about the river or stream below it. It wasn’t that way in our forefathers’ times, no sirre.

When our country was first settled by Europeans, the only roads and river crossings were located where animals or Native Americans had been using for years. To cross streams there were rocks, foot logs and shallows that could be used to reach the other side. In our area, the Great Pee Dee could only be crossed at certain points unless you had a canoe and then only with a light load.

As the white settlers arrived with their heavy wagons and livestock, more suitable ways of crossing our streams and rivers had to be initiated. River fords were used until ferries and later bridges were built.

River fords required shallow water with hard bottoms to get you across.

Foot logs have been used since ancient times to keep your feet dry while crossing water. Hikers still use this type of crossing, but users beware. These logs can be wet or slippery with moss. The rotting bark can sometimes come lose when you place your weight on them. Then there is always the chance of the log breaking.

Back in the day, folks built what they called punts. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with broad square ends, pushed along with a pole. But this type boat still didn’t get their wagons and livestock across the Pee Dee River.

As time went by, some of our forefathers were growing large quantities of cotton and other crops that needed to be sent across the river. Also, soldiers, lawyers, business owners and everyday folks needed to move their wagons, horses and supplies across the river in a safe manner.

Some of these well-to-do plantation owners who lived along the river built their own ferries. These ferries were large wooden flat boats similar to a raft. They were propelled by a long oar called a sweep.

As long as the river was calm this type of transportation worked fine.

As time went by, these ferry boats were operated by pulling a large rope across the river and anchoring it to something permanent like a tree on both sides of the river. Large iron rings were fitted over the rope and then connected by rope to the ferry boat. By pulling on these ropes a strong boatman could pull the ferry across the river.

Later, as the ferry boats got bigger and the loads heavier, metal cables were used instead of ropes. Horses, mules and oxen were used to pull these heavy burden loads. Later, steam engines were used.

Ferries with names like Haley’s Ferry, Maske or later called Stanback Ferry were in place around the Revolutionary War times on the Pee Dee. Wall’s Ferry, just above the Highway 74 bridge, was one of the last to close and actually carried automobiles across.


In what is now Scotland County, there were fords and ferries on the  Lumber River. 

Ferries were considered safe, but accidents did happen. Sometimes livestock would get spooked and push each other in the river. Floating or underwater logs would drift into the ferry boat and upset it.

Two of the most dangerous things that could happen to a ferry would be a swift current or faulty equipment.

If you didn’t own the ferry, fees and tolls had to be paid. For instance, just one person crossing might cost 10 cents, a horse and rider 25 cents, a dollar for a wagon and team, pleasure carriage 75 cents and three cents each for hogs and sheep.

If you were a farmer or person with no cash, the ferry operator might trade or barter for something so you could get across the river.

An old story is told of a man in Anson County who had some business to take of in Richmond County. This man always had a faithful dog that followed him everywhere he went. 

The man only had enough cash to pay the ferry operator for his passage, so the dog was left on the Anson County side of the river. As the ferry left the bank with his master on board, the dog whined and barked. 

You have heard the old saying, “all’s well that ends well.” As the ferry boat reached the middle of the river, the man’s dog jumped into the river and I’ll be doggone if’en he didn’t beat the ferry to the Richmond County side.

Today we have the privilege of crossing the Pee Dee River on a four-lane bridge without any fees or tolls.

How far we have come.


J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies.



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