The Fulton Ferry was the first steamship ferry route connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York City, United States, joining Fulton Street (Manhattan) and Fulton Street (Brooklyn) across the East River. It revolutionized travel between the then City of New York on Manhattan Island and the Village of Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island. Robert Fulton's steam Fulton Ferry Company in 1814 established his name on the ferry service. After the Brooklyn Bridge was built, ridership declined, and the ferry ceased operation on January 19, 1924. NYC Ferry now serves a very similar route.
The first grant for a commercial ferry was given by Dutch governor Willem Kieft to Cornelis Dircksen in 1642; however, local waterfront land-owners were free to make their own crossings of the river. A ferry connecting Broad Street in what was then New Amsterdam with Joralemon Street in what was then Breukelen was started in the 1630s by lone ferryman Cornelis Dircksen. It was later moved to Maiden Lane and Ferry Road, soon to be called Fulton Street.
The ferry played a large role in cementing the Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry. Two charters – the first in 1686, the second in 1708 – gave to Manhattan ownership of the lines and essentially all of the Brooklyn waterfront. In 1745, Hendrick Remsen brought a lawsuit against New York; after thirty years, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, awarding him his original five shillings plus court costs of nearly 2,375 shillings (475 times his original request). The city appealed to the crown, but America's declaration of independence threw the case into legal limbo, allowing the City of New York to retain its claim to the Brooklyn waterfront.
The site was known as "Brookland Ferry" when George Washington escaped with his troops after the Battle of Long Island. After the Revolutionary War, ferrymaster Adolph Waldron gained sole control of the ferry by virtue of being the only Whig with a claim to it. He experimented with barges with little success, although his hold on the ferry was very profitable for him. The City refused to renew his lease in 1789, opting instead for a second major charter in 1795, establishing the Catherine Ferry (or, popularly, the “New” Ferry), a stock-based company.
Steam ferry service
Robert Fulton, at the behest of Brooklyn magnate Hezekiah Pierrepont, secured a 25-year lease on the ferry in 1814. The first trip of the steamboat Nassau was made on May 10, 1814, and brought with it the first predictable passage between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Trips took no longer than twelve minutes, and there was no chance of the ship being swept upstream or downstream, or held to the whims of the wind. Brooklyn Heights became known as "America's First Suburb" as residents could commute to Manhattan with ease.
The shareholders of this line, now called Union Ferry, were mostly based in Manhattan; they tended to favor increased profits over improved service. (The stock paid a generous 7% dividend.) Fares started at four cents, which led to rival services at Red Hook and elsewhere. Union Ferry reduced its fare to one cent in stages between 1842 and 1850, bankrupting the competing lines and allowing Union Ferry to purchase their rights and raise rates once again.
On January 24, 1814, the Fulton Ferry Company, founded by Robert Fulton and William Cutting, obtained a lease on the route from the City of New York. The company introduced steamboat service to the route with the Nassau on May 8, 1814 (the first steam ferry service on the East River), and moved the Manhattan landing to Fulton Street that year. The ferry, which had been known popularly as the Old Ferry since 1795, when the Catherine Ferry (New Ferry) was introduced, became known as the Fulton Ferry, and the streets on either side were later renamed in turn. The Fulton Ferry Company and the South Ferry Company merged in 1839 to form the New York and Brooklyn Union Ferry Company.
The ferry continued to be successful until the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. It stayed in service for another 41 years, ceasing operations in 1924.:229 Demand was still sufficient to require the building of an elevated track to the hub, in use from 1888 to 1940. (The eastern end of the line is now used by the IND Eighth Avenue Line, served by the A and C trains of the New York City Subway.)
East River Ferry
Ferry service to Manhattan returned in 2006, with New York Water Taxi operating seasonal service. In February 2011, New York Waterway was contracted to operate a route calling at six slips in Brooklyn and Queens as well as the Manhattan East Side terminals. Service, begun in June 2011, operates in both directions with year-round peak service running every 20 minutes. Additional Summer (April-Oct) daily service runs off-peak every 30 minutes. In 2017, this service became part of the NYC Ferry system's East River route.
- Brian Cudahy, Over and Back, p229
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