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Home North Carolina Bladen County City of Carvers Historical Markers Elwell Ferry

Elwell Ferry

NC-53 at Elwell Ferry Road, Carvers, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 34° 29' 2.8644", -78° 21' 11.1276"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Service across Cape Fear River since 1905. Among the last of inland river ferries once common in eastern N.C. One mi. SW."
     Geography dictated the need for ferries during the colonial era in North Carolina. Over time bridges replaced the most of the small inland river ferries. Large vessels, administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT), today cover the vast expanses across the sounds. Only a handful of the small ferries, also run by DOT, remain. Two are in northeastern North Carolina. In Bertie County, the Sans Souci Ferry crosses the Cashie River and, in Hertford County, Parker’s Ferry crosses the Meherrin River. The other is in Bladen County and crosses the Cape Fear River. All are diesel-powered and cable-drawn. A newspaper writer described such two-vehicle ferries as resembling “a renegade boat ramp—or a floating, fenced-in driveway.” DOT engineers indicate that there is little likelihood that the ferries will be displaced by bridges. Modern high-rise structures cost millions compared with modest costs for staff and fuel. As with other vestiges of the past, such as covered bridges, the ferries generate an allure for locals and for tourists.

     Two brothers, Walter Hayes Russ and John Roland Russ, in 1905 petitioned the Bladen County commissioners for permission to operate what is now known as the Elwell Ferry, named for an early family in the area. Up until the 1930s, when the state took over operation, the ferry was rowed or paddled across the river. Initially Bladen County operated the ferry and paid the Russ brothers. Mules and wagons were the primary loads until 1916 when motor-powered vehicles came to Bladen. The state built larger flats and used cable to pull the vessel across. Around 1939 the state installed a gas engine and, three years later, Walter Russ died in an explosion as the poorly ventilated fumes were ignited in the bilge. Accidental drownings followed in 1967 and 1994. Up until 1952 the Elwell Ferry was the only river crossing between Wilmington and Elizabethtown, sixty-five miles apart. In that year a bridge was built twelve miles below the ferry site. Traffic consequently was eased on the ferry but the vessel continues to carry about sixty vessels per day.

“Elwell Ferry, 1905-1998,” brochure in marker files, Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History
(Raleigh) News and Observer, undated article by Julie Powers Rives Bladen County Records, North Carolina State Archives
Alan D. Watson, “The Ferry in Colonial North Carolina: A Vital Link in Transportation,” North Carolina Historical Review (Summer 1974): 247-260
Elwell Ferry Historical Marker Location Map, Carvers, North Carolina