Wright's Ferry (1730–1901) was an animal powered ferry established by John Wright in 1730, and the very first means of crossing the wide unfriendly Susquehanna in the counties of the lower half of the state of Pennsylvania directly triggered Cresap's War between the Province of Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was built in the early 18th century to transport goods, animals, and people across the Susquehanna River in south central Pennsylvania as the whole region was first seeing pioneer settlements, and the establishment of the ferry directly triggered a series and succession of unfriendly acts culminating in the war between colonies in the Maryland-Pennsylvania boundary dispute. The ferry was sighted just north of the mid-river islands of the Conejohela Flats region who's ownership was disputed by Maryland and Pennsylvania due to a false assumption (mistake) in the charter of the Province of Pennsylvania.
The river came to be the political boundary between (nearly empty lands of) the two counties connected by the Ferry joining the two towns that came to be known as Columbia and Wrightsville. The ferry was located immediately south of the present-day Columbia-Wrightsville Veterans Memorial Bridge along Route 462, the Lincoln Highway. Because of the ferry, the town that grew up around it on the river's eastern shore became known by the same name. (It was later renamed Columbia).
John Wright was a Quaker who first came to the area in 1724 to explore the land and preach to the local Native Americans. He moved his family to a plot 100 yds from the left bank in 1726, establishing a small settlement along with Robert Barber and Samuel Blunston. In 1730, he was granted a patent to operate a ferry across the river and subsequently established the ferry with the aid of his two friends. He also built a ferry house and a tavern on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna and the town grew up around it. Now a historical building, its located north of Locust Street, on Front Street in Wright's Ferry, as the town was then known Columbia, Pennsylvania. The two-story log tavern, operated by John Wright, Jr. until 1834, consisted of a large room on either end connected by a passageway. When John Jr. married, he moved to York County’s western shore at Wright's Ferry West (later to be named Wrightsville), and built another ferry house and tavern.
In later years, Wright involved greatly in local governmental affairs rented the ferry to others and eventually sold it.
In 1729, after Wright had petitioned William Penn’s son to create a new county, the provincial government took land from Chester County to establish Lancaster County, the fourth county in Pennsylvania. County residents - Indians and colonists alike - regularly traveled to Wright’s home to file papers and claims, seek government assistance and redress of issues, and register land deeds. During this time, the town was called “Wright’s Ferry.”
In 1738, James Wright built the Wright’s Ferry Mansion, the oldest existing house in Columbia, for his family. The structure can still be seen at Second and Cherry Streets.
Traffic heading west from Lancaster, Philadelphia, and other nearby towns regularly traveled through Wright's Ferry, using the ferry to cross the river. As traffic flow increased, the ferry grew, to the point of including canoes, rafts, flatboats, and steamboats, and was capable of handling Conestoga Wagons and other large vehicles. Due to the volume of traffic, however, wagons, freight, supplies and people often became backed-up, creating a waiting period of several days to cross the river. With 150 to 200 vehicles typically lined up on the Columbia side, ferrymen used chalk to number the wagons.
The early ferry itself consisted of two dugout canoes fastened together with carriage and wagon wheels. When numerous cattle were moved, the canoeist guided a lead animal with a rope so that the others would follow. If the lead animal became confused and started swimming in circles, however, the other animals followed until they tired and eventually drowned. As the years went on, the technology was improved, eventually including watercraft which could convey heavy Conestoga wagons, which were being built contemporaneously in Conestoga, Pennsylvania on the west bank of the river.
- Typical fares were as follows:
- Coach with four passengers and drawn by five horses-9 shillings,
- 4-horse wagon-3 shillings and 9 pence,
- man and horse-6 pence.
Fares were reduced in 1787 due to competition from Anderson's Ferry, located further upstream, near Marietta.
In later years, Wright rented the ferry to others and eventually sold it. Due to increased competition from the railroad in the 19th century, the ferry finally ceased operations in 1901.
- Fire on the River, The Defense of the World’s Longest Covered Bridge and How It Changed the Battle of Gettysburg, George Sheldon, 2006, Quaker Hills Press, Inc. ISBN 0-9779315-0-1, 978-0-9779315-0-7.
- Town Historical Markers and Plaques provided by Columbia Borough and Rivertownes PA USA.