Let Us Now Praise Ferrymen

Item of the Week From the East Hampton Library Long Island Collection
Shelter Island's South Ferry, circa 1901

Do you commute back and forth to work every day? How far do you travel? Whether it’s 5 or 50 miles, the importance of transportation can’t be denied, especially on Long Island. While many rely on cars, trains, or buses to get them where they need to be, ferryboats are also a popular option, and sometimes they are the only one. Such is the case with Shelter Island, as there are no bridges connecting it to the North or South Fork.

There is very little information about the accompanying photograph, other than that it depicts a couple and possibly their driver waiting to cross at Shelter Island’s South Ferry, which would take them across Shelter Island Sound to North Haven on the South Fork. The car, positioned on a raft or scow, would then be pulled across the water by a sailboat. This was known as a “sail ferry,” and part of the boat can actually be seen at the left-hand side of the image. Named the Elloine, this 32-foot catboat operated between 1888 and 1905.

The South Ferry as we know it today has a long history. Shortly after his arrival on Shelter Island in 1700, Jonathan Havens (1680-1748) operated a sail ferry between his farm and Sag Harbor. This continued until 1827, when Joseph Havens, the last Havens ferryman to own the farm, died. The 60-acre estate was eventually sold to Samuel Gibbs Clark in the 1830s for $1,350. 

Clark kept the Havens ferry going, but chose a shorter route to North Haven, using a 16-foot rowboat to carry passengers and goods across. He did this until his death in 1875. His sons, Samuel Jr. and David Youngs Clark, became ferrymen themselves. 

Interestingly, the Clark brothers married two Havens sisters, Elizabeth and Adelaide, making their descendants directly related to the original Havens family ferrymen. The Clark family still operates the ferry today.

Gina Piastuck is the department head of the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.