If riding the last remaining cable ferry east of the Mississippi River holds a prominent place on your bucket list, act quickly.
An era of Monongahela River transportation will draw to a close next week when “Frederick,” the Fredericktown ferry, will make its final voyage between Washington and Fayette counties Friday.
Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink confirmed the ferry operators – two full-timers and a part-timer – have received notice they will be losing their jobs.
“They were served their notices in accordance with county policy and the union contract,” Zimmerlink said, adding, “There have not been any discussions between Washington and Fayette counties as to the future of the Fredericktown ferry. We will be dry-docking it.”
A bridge department employee noted the ferry is closed Sundays, and due to the lack of an operator, no ferry service is scheduled today.
The 60-foot Frederick’s hours during the final week will be 6:15 a.m. through 1:45 p.m., and the last day of operation is scheduled for Friday, when it will float one last time between LaBelle and the East Bethlehem Township Village of Fredericktown.
Fans of the boat who share information on the Friends of the Fredericktown Ferry Facebook page have suggested gathering for one last ride, but posts referred to the layoff notices and the Fayette County commissioners’ resolution in May to cease operations Sept. 3.
The Frederick, a 35-ton steel vessel constructed in 1948 by Hillman Barge Co., has become a drain on governmental coffers with the construction and opening of the Bakewell Bridge as part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Mon-Fayette Expressway in July 2012. The bridge charges a 90-cent toll.
The ferry, which at one time was making close to 250 daily trips, has more recently been making 90 trips a day. Fayette County pegged its operating loss at $199,479 last year, and $450,691 since 2009, when the fare for a passenger car was raised to $2. Pedestrians and bicycles ride for a mere 50 cents, while a trip for a car and trailer costs $6.50.
Scott Bower, 39, an algebra teacher at Washington High School who is part owner of Bower Brothers Lounge on Route 88 in Fredericktown, said Friday, “It’s a shame, but in modern times, nobody wants to take care of the old things. It seems like everybody wants to get rid of the thing except for the community of Fredericktown.”
Bower said he would have liked to have seen the ferry promoted as a tourist attraction rather than a workaday shortcut for those who work at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette.
“See what it’s like to go on a cruise in Fredericktown. That place is full of boats down there, recreational boating, since we don’t have coal mines anymore. It doesn’t make much money, but how many things does government do that’s not a waste of money?” Bower asked.