AUTHOR: Linda H. Barnette (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
As people came from Europe to America, traveling down South in the 1700s, they found a vast network of rivers and streams. They discovered places where the water was shallow enough to cross, which they did on their journey. But as more and more people settled in the Piedmont, or the Forks of the Yadkin, as some historians refer to it, they hunted animals, raised crops, and needed more ways to get their products and stock to markets.
Davie County was one of the North Carolinia counties that started paying people who ran ferry boats across the Yadkin and its many branches and tributaries. So, by the end of the nineteenth century, there were at least 20 ferries operating in Davie and Davidson counties, both of which are bordered by rivers on some sides.
One of those ferry boats belonged to my grandfather, O. H. Hartley, and his father, Thomas. My great-grandfather, Thomas, was born in 1863 and died in 1942; my grandfather, Ollie Hamilton Hartley, was born in 1885 and died in 1968. My grandfather’s farm was in Davie, and his father’s land was in Davidson, so they built the ferry so they could visit each other’s families. Eventually, they also carried people, wagons, and animals across the river as well and made a good living doing that. The ferry was located on the river, below Cherry Hill Road, just below my grandfather’s property. What is especially interesting to me is that my dad helped his father operate the ferry when he was a child, as did his younger brother. I personally recall seeing the old cable across the river.
My mother was interviewed for an article in the local newspaper, The Davie County Enterprise, sometime after my father’s death in 1985, and this is the source of much of my information. My copy unfortunately does not have the exact date. She said that people also crossed the ferry on the way to Lexington when Daddy was a young child. The article also included some of the prices charged for ferriage in 1839: a loaded wagon was $.50; an empty wagon was $.37 1/2; a man and horse-$.061/2; a man on foot $.05; and 3 cents each for cows, sheep, and pigs! Apparently, the operators made a good living!
In a book titled The Historic Trails of Davidson County, Tom Magnuson, the author, writes about our family’s ferry: “Crump/Barnes/Hartley ferry is at the base of the neck” (Horseshoe Neck in the river). Magnuson explains that “the Hartley family may have been the last operators of the ferry as it bears their name in the 1915 Soil Survey of Davidson County. The Hartleys still live in proximity to the old ferry and the approach road is a very distinct landmark running down Roy Hartley Road to the river bottom.” Although I have not been on the road to the ferry, I have been down to the end of the road to the property where it starts.
When the bridge between the two counties was built in 1927, the family ferry and most of the other ferries went out of business. People in cars could travel much faster by using the bridge, and thus a way of life that had endured for many years ended.