Take the Ferry at Fredericktown

Even near the City of Bridges, there are other ways to cross a river



You might expect a ferryboat in coastal New England, on Staten Island, in Puget Sound near Seattle, at Ocracoke on the Outer Banks or in some old Western when a train of covered wagons has to get across a big river. There's something old, slightly exotic and maybe even romantic about a ferry.

We're not used to them around here. But there is one. On the Mon, at Fredericktown, about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, a small and efficient, bright-red, cable-guided boat named Frederick regularly hauls vehicles back and forth between LaBelle (locals say LAY-bell) and Fredericktown. Six days a week.

If you're in that neighborhood, the two- or three-minute ferry ride can save you from driving to either of the nearest bridges, which are about 15 miles away.

The day when I stopped with my video camera crew, Ron Columbia was the pilot operating the ferry. He directs vehicles into position on the flat little boat. He starts the engines. He collects tolls, makes small talk. He helps keep the trip pleasant. He's conductor/engineer/porter all in one.

"Yeah," said Ron. "I like it. I like the people who come across. I enjoy talking to them. I see a car across the river, sitting on the other side; I just start over there and go pick them up. Go load them up. Bring them back across; drop them off. About a hundred times in an eight-hour period."
Some local historians will tell you there's been a ferry here since 1790. Ferries were usually positioned at points on a river where people had multiple reasons to go back and forth, and often the site of a ferry crossing was where a bridge would eventually be built.

In 1967, when it was privately owned, this ferry stopped operating, apparently for a number of reasons, but in 1977, it was rehabilitated and revived. Since then it's profited greatly from new traffic going to and from the recently built maximum-security state prison on top of the hill on the Fayette County side. The ferry is now jointly owned by Fayette and Washington counties. The river is the county line.
Sadly now it looks as though a new $95 million bridge - part of toll road 43, the Mon-Fayette Expressway, or as we call it in our van, "The

Loneliest Highway" because of the small number of cars using it - could make this ferry superfluous and obsolete. That bridge, which would be 4 miles down river, is scheduled to be complete in 2012. It's just plans right now, but progress can be fast.

So this summer is the perfect time for a day trip to Fredericktown. Ride the ferry. Get a new view of the Monongahela Valley and a better understanding of what's on the other side of the river.
 


Rick Sebak produces, writes and narrates documentaries for WQED tv13, as well as national specials for PBS. His programs are available online or call 800/274-1307.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Welcome to the New Pittsburgh: A City Transformed

Welcome to the New Pittsburgh: A City Transformed

A new economy is being built by a younger, highly educated generation that appreciates the city’s past while embracing its future.
Pittsburgh's Hill District, Reimagined

Pittsburgh's Hill District, Reimagined

Thanks to grassroots community efforts and investments by nonprofits, foundations and developers, the neighborhood is on the cusp of a long-awaited renaissance.
PittGirl: Time to Let Go of the Past

PittGirl: Time to Let Go of the Past

She says we 'Burghers must recognize our resistance to change and realize that we need to give it a chance.
Review: Willow

Review: Willow

Following a menu and interior overhaul in late 2014, Willow returns as a revitalized dining option in the North Hills.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Dad's Take on Super-Deflate-Gate, Parking Meter Meltdown, Hypnotic Snow

Pittsburgh Dad's Take on Super-Deflate-Gate, Parking Meter Meltdown, Hypnotic Snow

Our weekly round-up of awesome, funny, quirky posts about or from the 'Burgh.
Another Movie Shot & Set in Pittsburgh Headed to the Big Screen

Another Movie Shot & Set in Pittsburgh Headed to the Big Screen

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" received rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival.
New Comedy Shooting in Pittsburgh Features A-List Celebs

New Comedy Shooting in Pittsburgh Features A-List Celebs

The cast includes three Academy Award-Winners
Mush! Man Tours Pittsburgh on Dog Sled

Mush! Man Tours Pittsburgh on Dog Sled

We bet you didn't get to work this way.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Welcome to the New Pittsburgh: A City Transformed

Welcome to the New Pittsburgh: A City Transformed

A new economy is being built by a younger, highly educated generation that appreciates the city’s past while embracing its future.
Pittsburgh's Hill District, Reimagined

Pittsburgh's Hill District, Reimagined

Thanks to grassroots community efforts and investments by nonprofits, foundations and developers, the neighborhood is on the cusp of a long-awaited renaissance.
PittGirl: Time to Let Go of the Past

PittGirl: Time to Let Go of the Past

She says we 'Burghers must recognize our resistance to change and realize that we need to give it a chance.
Review: Willow

Review: Willow

Following a menu and interior overhaul in late 2014, Willow returns as a revitalized dining option in the North Hills.
A Growing Rivalry on Ice: Robert Morris vs. Penn State

A Growing Rivalry on Ice: Robert Morris vs. Penn State

Two teams that clearly don't like each other are vying for bragging rights for the state.
Review: Salt of the Earth

Review: Salt of the Earth

Brandon Fisher is the latest chef behind Salt of the Earth’s modern-American dishes.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags