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Wright’s Ferry connected York and Lancaster counties for nearly two centuries

Ferry boat crossing from Columbia to Wrightsville just below the iron bridge.

You may have read my recent York Sunday News column on the fifteen ferries that connected York County with Lancaster and Dauphin counties across the Susquehanna River. There were so many that I didn’t have room in my column to share details on each ferry, gleaned from the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives files.

Here is some information on one of the best known, Wright’s Ferry:

John Wright chartered his ferry in 1730. The town that grew up around it was called Wright’s Ferry, a name later changed to Columbia about the time (1789) that our first Congressman, Thomas Hartley, was advocating the establishment of the permanent United States capital there. (Click here to read my previous column on that effort.)

The ferry crossed just below the present-day Memorial Bridge in the vicinity of Walnut and Locust streets. John Wright, Jr. built a tavern and ferry house on the western shore, founding Wrightsville.

The ferry operated for nearly 200 years, evolving from flat boats poled across the river to the paddle wheelers, named Helen and Mary, shown in these photos. According to an August 1962 York Dispatch article, both of these boats were destroyed by an ice jam in 1925. The article says that at that time Mary’s wooden hulk “lies in mud at foot of Columbia’s Walnut St. wharf” and that Helen had been “pushed ashore at Wrightsville, cut up and sold for scrap.”

A June 1993 York Sunday News article quoted Wrightsville historian Donald Lehman, saying “Wrights Ferry stopped running regularly in 1919 and halted weekend service in 1924.” That would fit in with the boats’ demise by ice in 1925. Lehman also said that the ferry service had hosted moonlight dancing in 1890, using a flatboat for the orchestra and another for the dancers.

I’ll be covering more of the ferries in future posts.

Ferryboat Helen crossing the Susquehanna c.1915.