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The Bell in the Gloucester City Ferry Co. Belfry

GLOUCESER CITY NJ-Can you imagine what it would be like to have a job on the Delaware River in Gloucester City during the heyday of its resort years?

Well, lucky me, I did work there. Now you ask, who am I? Well, I am the bell that rang for many a year in the Gloucester Ferry Company belfry.

I rang when the boats came into the slips, and I rang again when they departed for Philadelphia.

Back in those days the air was fresh and crisp.

The river was clean and full of shad waiting to be caught and served in the many hotels that were built along the Gloucester City shoreline – a 3.5 mile, scenic stretch of land.

In 1865, I was owned by a Mr. Wm. Farr and Mr. A. Heckman.

Actually, I had been hanging around Gloucester since the 1850’s, but that is another story.

Farr and Heckman bought two new boats, the “Fulton” and the “Exchange,” and had two large waiting rooms built at the terminal.

The boats ran from dawn to early in the evening, but many of the hotel and amusement owners wanted to see the boat service have longer hours of service.

Then, a Mr. William Thompson tried to purchase the Ferry Company, but my bosses turned him down.

However, through a third party, Mr. Billy Thompson, now known as the “Duke of Gloucester,” took control of the Gloucester Ferry Co. in 1888. He brought over the three boats he had been using at his former ferry near Hugg’s Tavern – the same Hugg’s Tavern from Betsy Ross and Fox Hunting Club fame.

They were beautiful ferries: The Sylvan Dell, Dylvan Glenn, and Twilight.

Now the fun began, as we became a 24-hour ferry.

The farmers were happy as it increased chances of selling more fruits and vegetables. And, Mr. Thompson made more profit.

He was doing so well he increased the fleet of boats by adding the Peerless, built in 1872; and the Dauntless, built in 1876.

In 1893, he added the Fearless – the first propeller-driven ferry boat.

Most everyone used the ferries, including farmers, businessmen, gamblers, the rich the famous, and thousands of school children and their families.

The magnificent Delaware and I had a great love affair for many years. I kept ringing until that sad day when Mr. Thompson, “The Duke of Gloucester,” died on July 2, 1911, at his birthplace in Ireland.

His body was brought home and placed on the ferry boat Fearless. It was brought across the river to the City that he loved. I had the honor to ring for him the last time.

“The Duke” was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery on July 14, 1911.

St. Mary’s church bells rang for him in what, up until that time, was the largest funeral ever seen in the City of Gloucester.

Well, as the old saying goes, “Life Goes On.”

So, I kept on ringing for the ferry boats.

A great day was when the USS Brooklawn sailed into the Gloucester waters, coming home from the Spanish American War.

This same ship also brought home the remains of John Paul Jones to Annapolis, MD.

I remember the USS Olympia going by to Philadelphia. The ship had the honor of bringing home the unknown soldier of World War I.

Today she is a living museum at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. As they had passed, I rang for them and the ship’s bell gave me a friendly ring in return.

I can also remember in 1876 when the Augusta landed on the Gloucester Beach. It was kind of sad to watch her being torn apart over the years.

Then, that fateful cold day in January 1923 came along. The water pipes in the ferry office were frozen. The workmen trying to thaw them out were using the old-type blow torches, when suddenly the walls caught on fire.

The fire roared out of control, and another era of Gloucester City ended.

The place went up like a tinder box.

I crashed to the ground among the smoke and ashes. I never rang again.

Someone took a photograph of me the next day, lying there among the ruins. Then, I was gone.

Where? No one knows – maybe the old City dump on Johnson Boulevard.

Anyway, I had a good life while it lasted and was proud to be part of Gloucester City’s history.

source Gloucester City News

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