Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: May 30, 2020

Before modern bridges were constructed to span Texas rivers, ferries were maintained at most points where roads crossed streams or rivers that were not fordable. From the beginning, ferries were subject to regulation by the community they served, and as early as July 1824 Stephen F. Austin and Baron de Bastrop issued a license to John McFarlan, giving him the exclusive privilege of operating a ferry at San Felipe de Austin but stipulating certain duties he must fulfill to retain the charter. On December 20, 1836, one of the first acts of the Congress of the Republic of Texas regulated ferries, delineated their responsibilities to the public, and required that they be chartered by the county in which they operated. Many early immigrants entered Texas by way of Gaines Ferry on the Old San Antonio Road crossing of the Sabine River. Ferries that played a sufficient part in the life of the republic and the state to be marked by the Texas Centennial Commission in 1936 were Burnam's Ferry, Colbert's Ferry, Epperson's Ferry, Groce's Ferry, Lynch's Ferry, Robbins's Ferry, Stephenson's Ferry, and Thompson's Ferry. Ferries had various styles of construction, but perhaps the most common type was a flat raft-like barge onto which a wagon or cart could be driven from the inclined stream banks. These banks were required by the ferry charters to be kept graded by the ferrymen. Many ferrymen stretched a bank-to-bank cable for a guide. Fares, which were supposed to be posted, averaged one to two dollars for light and heavy wagons, twenty-five cents for one man and horse, 6¼ to 12½ cents for a man on foot, four to six cents a head for cattle, and lesser amounts for smaller animals. Ferrymen were allowed to raise their fares for crossings at night or in bad weather. In 1850 and 1854 the state legislature passed laws relating to ferries and their responsibility to the community as public conveyors.

In 1949 two ferries were in operation on the state-maintained highway system, one on State Highway 87 between Galveston and Port Bolivar with a twenty-five cent fee, and one on State Highway 146 at Morgan's Point, with no fee. The Morgan's Point Ferry closed in 1952. Around that time the privately owned Harbor Island Causeway and ferry between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas charged a nominal fee. In 2009 the state still operated a free ferry service at Galveston and Port Aransas. Lynchburg Ferry, historically known as Lynch's Ferry, was still in operation in 2009. Harris County offered free service at the original ferry site on the San Jacinto River at Baytown. One of the last ferry services to operate in Texas on the Rio Grande was the Los Ebanos, owned by the Reyna family. Located eighteen miles out of Rio Grande City off U.S. Highway 83, the ferry began service in 1950. It provided the residents of several border towns with cheap transportation across the river. The ferry, reminiscent of its nineteenth-century predecessors, was a hand-drawn flatboat, with a capacity of only three cars. In 1975 a Texas Historical Commission marker was placed at the site, commemorating the point of crossing as the trail taken by José de Escandon's expedition. In 1991 plans were anounced to replace the ferry with a bridge, but in 2009 the ferry, the last of its kind along the Rio Grande, was still in operation.

Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). Eugene C. Barker, ed., "Minutes of the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin, 1828–1832," 12 parts, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21–24 (January 1918-October 1920). Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). William R. Hogan, The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; rpt. 1969). Harold Schoen, comp., Monuments Erected by the State of Texas to Commemorate the Centenary of Texas Independence (Austin: Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations, 1938). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Ferries,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 23, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ferries.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 30, 2020