It was only logical that the narrowest points in the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan would be the sites for ferry service, as well as of the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges in later years.
After the bridges and tunnels were built, the ferries were used less and less. They may have furnished rapid, and even romantic, transport in pleasant weather but the hazards of wind, water and tides presented problems to their efficient operation. Ice floes made the crossing particularly treacherous in wintertime. And the boats became increasingly crowded and presented problems in loading and unloading passengers on both sides of the river.
An article in The New York Times on July 28, 1867, reported: “The Union Ferry Company lines are overcrowded, packing 1,200 people on boats made to carry conveniently one-third that number. Delays are frequent … The crowding on and off the boats is disgraceful and dangerous. There is no order, no system, nothing to prevent the rushing of hungry hundreds on to the boat, from which other hundreds are trying to escape. The two throngs meet, tussle, squeeze, pick pockets, tread on toes and idly swear.”
The ferries that ran between Williamsburg and Manhattan had ceased operation on Dec. 14, 1908. But the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s issue of March 16, 1911, told how the ferry service was resumed:
“Throughout the Eastern District there is jubilation today because of the resumption of the ferry service to the foot of Roosevelt street, Manhattan. The mere fact that the ferryboats are once more to churn the water of the East River between Williamsburg and the opposite shore is an occasion for widespread celebration, but the general joy is accentuated because the event marks the end of a long two year’s fight.
“That explains why, from the most prominent merchant to the smallest shopkeeper, exultation was shown by the flaunting of flags and a lavish display of bunting; why there was a parade, speechmaking and other marks of gratification. Even the boats themselves made a sort of triumphal procession across the narrow lane of water, their sides and rails decorated. There was a great cheer and tooting of whistles from factory and river craft as the first boats poked their noses out from their slips today. The shore line was crowded. The boats were filled to capacity.
“The craft which will ply between Manhattan and Williamsburg in the future are better and speedier than the boats which were in use when the ferry service shut down on Dec. 14, 1908. The Maine and Oregon, two of the best boats of the old company, have been thoroughly rebuilt, with new timbers and new decks. The Oregon was taken up the river on March 4 on a trial trip, and exceeded the expectations of her managers as to speed and ease of handling. If it is found necessary, the America will also be added to the service.
“With a favorable tide, the boats are expected to maintain an average of eight minutes from shore to shore and of fifteen minutes when the tide is set against them. They will run under a 20-minute headway from 5 o’clock in the morning until 9 at night. This excepts Sundays and holidays, but if the traffic warrants it, the same schedule will be maintained on those days. The passenger rates will be three cents, as heretofore, and the former team rates will prevail.
“The Maine and Oregon are each 190 feet in length and 62 feet in width, with beam-condensing engine of 42-inch cylinder and 9-inch stroke, normally 700 horse power.
“The company has other boats, among which are the Virginia, the Broadway and the Hoboken. They have all been made as good as new at the yard of Tietjen & Long, in Hoboken, and painted in light and cheerful colors. Cleanliness of floors and seats will be maintained to the highest degree.
“To accommodate the public further, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company ran a shuttle service today between the bridge and the ferry. There were cars at the terminal to meet every boat and a sufficient number to care for the traffic. A strong effort will be made to induce the railroad company to run a portion of the through car service to and from the ferry, especially at night, as patrons object to being dumped from shuttle cars into already overloaded cars from Manhattan at the bridge entrance.
“The new corporation that has started the line anew is the Brooklyn and Manhattan Ferry Company, of which Henry L. Joyce, manager of the New Jersey Central Railroad lighter boats, is the president. The practical management of the business will be in the hands of Captain L. Helms [name couldn’t be more suitable!], an experienced ferry manager, and J.A. McCarthy will be the company’s auditor. The old hands, such as are available, will be given positions on the boats, but only thoroughly efficient men will be employed. Captain Helms says that he expects to give a first class service and if the business warrants it, more boats will be put on to meet the demands of the traffic...”
“The line is operated under a ten-year lease from the city, with the privilege of a renewal for ten years more, the municipality paying the managers of the line $11,000 per month, estimated to be half of the running expenses, and the city is to be paid back half of the net income, the subsidy of $11,000 to be counted as part of the income. In view of the heavy deficiency arising from the operation of the Staten Island and South Brooklyn ferries, this is looked upon as a very good plan for the city from a financial point of view.
“The city acquired from the old Brooklyn Ferry Company, which owned a strip 1,200 feet in length along the waterfront at the foot of Broadway, a strip of sufficient length to accommodate the two ferry slips for $400,000, and has expended near $100,000 in improvements in the way of dredging and repairing the sides of the slips and bridges.”