The opportunity was too good to pass up: a two and a half day road trip with Florida history expert Phil Eschbach and Authentic Florida's Robin Draper. I've not had much time to explore the state I love during my home renovation, so I decided to join my friends at the Ft. Gates Ferry in Welaka on a beautiful Sunday morning.
Although the Ft. Gates Ferry is just a few miles from where I spent much of my childhood, (we had a weekend place in Welaka), I'd never made the journey on its deck across the St. Johns River. Originating from a small fish camp west of Crescent City, the ferry can take two cars at a time and is powered by wonderful vintage watercraft dubbed the "Too Wendy." The fee is $10 a vehicle, but the trip not only takes you across the river, but back in time as well. The ferry at this location was first put into use to transport troops across the river in the Seminole Indian Wars almost 200 years ago. Florida's oldest ferry, it is also the only ferry in the state that is privately operated. Word has it that major modifications to the facilities surrounding the ferry are in the near future, including paving the long dirt road through the Ocala National Forest on the west side of the ferry's route. Coming in from Crescent City on the east side, I noticed a huge housing development that didn't exist just a few years ago.
|Robin snaps pictures while the ferryman raises the ramp.|
|The small fish camp from where the ferry departs is real Old Florida.|
|A houseboat anchored on the western shore.|
|With Southern Gospel music blaring on a boom box, Sunday service for these folks was on the banks of the mighty St. Johns...|
|Collecting payment at the journey's end.|
|The Two Wendy is connected to the barge via a trailer hitch, which allows it to rotate 180 degrees so it can make the journey in both directions.|
|We were told that this dirt road on the western shore is to be paved.|
The ferry landed us near Salt Springs, another place I had not been since I was a kid, but we didn't stop. I hope to return again soon. Although the ferry is really just a way to transport you from one side of the river to the next, it in itself is a remarkable destination.