- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

There are quicker ways to cross the Potomac River. In this era of the superhighway and the I-95 Mixing Bowl, one can speed through a tunnel or motor over a bridge.

But a visit to White’s Ferry will not just get you over the water. It will, for the three-minute crossing, give you a sense of going back in time.

White’s Ferry, the only ferry that crosses the Potomac, takes visitors from near Poolesville, Md., to a spot just past Leesburg, Va. The ferry is utilitarian as well as historical. The boat opens at 5 a.m. and carries mostly commuters across the river in its own version of rush hour. After that, passengers are a mixture of tourists looking at Civil War sites, antiques hunters, bicyclists headed for the C&O; trail, and people just looking for the quickest way across.

“I like taking the ferry,” says Jim Wyatt of Rockville. Mr. Wyatt was in line on the Maryland side one recent afternoon. “It’s not just for tourists. It is a quaint thing in the day and age. I am from Boston, and when my family comes to visit, this is the kind of place they like to see.”

There has been some sort of ferry at this spot since 1828. It was then known as Conrad’s Ferry, after the first owner, Ernest Conrad. Conrad’s Ferry charged 6 cents per man, mule or horse and 3 cents per head for cattle. Riding carriages were charged 6 cents per wheel.

After the Civil War, Confederate Col. Elijah Veirs White bought the ferry, thus the name “White’s Ferry.” At that time, the rope that guided the boat was replaced with a metal cable. In 1920, the ferry entered the motor age when then-owner Charles Ashby Williams attached a Model-T engine to a rowboat.

The Williams family continued to run the ferry until 1942, when a flood destroyed the old wooden barge. In 1946, Rockville lawyer Edwin Brown purchased the ferry, starting operations with an old Army barge that could hold three cars. The Brown family, which still owns the ferry, continued to upgrade the boats. Today’s passengers cross on a diesel-powered barge with a 24-car capacity. The barge is named in honor of Confederate Civil War Gen. Jubal A. Early.

Still, even with more sophisticated equipment, the operation is still at the mercy of the Potomac, ferry manager Richard Brown says. The rising waters caused by the snowy winter and rainy spring have wreaked havoc on ferry travel this year, he adds.

“I think from November until late June, we were open full time only one week,” he says. Generally, the ferry operates year round, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. The schedule changes, however, because of ice, rain and the number of cars waiting in line.

On the Maryland side, White’s Ferry can be a destination in itself. There are biking trails, picnic tables and a snack shop at the ferry site. There are canoes for rent and fishing tackle for sale. Historical information is posted so visitors can learn the history of White’s Ferry and the site’s role in the path of the Gettysburg and Antietam Civil War campaigns. On the Virginia side, there is merely the boat landing.

On both sides of the river, however, are nearby destinations that tourists can incorporate into their ferry outing. Close by on the Maryland side are historic Poolesville and hiking, biking and nature-watching at Sugarloaf Mountain. The Virginia side’s features include historic Leesburg as well as Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets; the tiny outpost of Lucketts, which is good for antiquing; Tarara Vineyards; Morven Park Equestrian Center; and the beauty of Virginia horse country.


Location: The ferry is located on White’s Ferry Road on both the Maryland and Virginia sides.

Directions: To get to the Maryland side, take the Beltway to Interstate 270 north. Take Exit 6 (Route 28 west) to White’s Ferry Road. To get to the Virginia side, take the Beltway to Dulles Toll Road to Dulles Greenway. Exit the Greenway in Leesburg. Follow Route 15 north to White’s Ferry Road.

Hours: 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission: Cars $3 one way, $5 round trip; trucks $4 to $8, depending on size; motorcycles $2; pedestrians 50 cents.

Parking: Available on Maryland side.

More information: Call 301/349-5200.

Note: The ferry trip can be incorporated into an outing in either Maryland or Virginia. Nearby sites include Sugarloaf Mountain and historic Poolesville in Maryland, antiquing destinations Lucketts and Leesburg, Morven Park Equestrian Center, and Tarara Vineyards, all in Virginia.

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