- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

TRAPPE, Md. (AP) — The squat, crumbling ferryboat that sits like a beached whale at the western end of the Choptank River bridge has been a landmark for travelers along U.S. 50 for nearly four decades.

The Hampton Roads Ferry has been an upscale restaurant, site of a pretty tough bar, an offbeat venue for several antique shops and an indoor flea market. During the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, it got a red-white-and-blue paint job. It was Site No. 7 in the Bay Game coloring book produced by the Maryland Transportation Authority in 2002.

Now, its owner is wondering what’s next for the cavernous, 185-foot structure, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“I had a guy offer me $10,000, just for the steel, and he would demolish it,” said owner Jack Morrison, who also operates the Gateway Marina next door. “But I love that old boat. I really am not sure what we’ll do.”

Mr. Morrison, 48, said a Talbot County zoning inspector ordered him to tear down the upper deck’s crumbling mess of rotting wood a couple of months ago, setting off rumors the old landmark was being dismantled.

“That upper part was what was most visible from U.S. 50, but it was in bad shape,” said Mr. Morrison, who bought the ferry and its 1.5-acre setting for $425,000 four years ago. He acknowledges buying it mostly for the land. Right now, he uses the huge interior, which once carried cars, as a sheltered space for off-season boat repairs at his marina. But he is not sure what he’s going to do with it in the long term.

The Hampton Roads Ferry got its name from the Virginia waters where it hauled cars and passengers from the 1920s to the late 1950s.

“It’s a shambles now, but I remember using it during [World War II] when I was stationed in Hampton Roads,” said Earl Brannock, 83, who runs the nonprofit Brannock Maritime Museum in Cambridge.

It was towed to Maryland sometime after 1957, when the Hampton Tunnel opened in Virginia and surplus ferries were sold. Mr. Brannock said a retired Navy veteran named Broadus Hay bought the vessel, hoping at first to convert it to a hunting lodge. Later, he hoped it could become a destination point for beach-bound traffic on U.S. 50, where traffic jams sometimes backed up nearly five miles to the town of Trappe.

“Broadus had 100 ideas on just about everything,” Mr. Brannock said. “It was worth more when he first bought it, but it was cannibalized for all its brass fittings, gauges, anything of value, years ago.”

Area residents remember Feb. 10, 1968, the day the ferry was towed to the Talbot County side of the Choptank.

It was Harvey Davis’ wedding day. Mr. Davis, executive director of the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t recall seeing it. But guests at his reception remember rushing to the windows at the Cambridge Country Club to get a glimpse.

Christine Wright-Gadow, who owns a hair salon in Cambridge, recalls playing in and around the ferry as a child, then becoming a teenage regular when disc jockeys made it part of the local “in” scene.

“It was in the early ‘80s, I guess,” said Mrs. Wright-Gadow, 41. “I didn’t drink, so we’d get our cup of ice water and dance like crazy. Growing up on the shore, there wasn’t a lot to do. It was the happening place.”

One bar in the ferry was known as a good spot for dancing inside or fighting in the parking lot, locals recall fondly.

“I’ve always been fascinated with that ferry,” said Cambridge native Connie Tubman, 59, whose family ran a gift shop near the boat from 1970 until they moved the business into town in 1987. “It’s such a part of the place. I wish I could have bought it years ago.”

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