Crossing the river
Valley View Ferry is considered the longest continuously operated business in Kentucky
The Kentucky River, creating nearly half the boundary of Jessamine County, had a tremendous impact on its early settlement. The river was essential for the shipment of goods downstream to New Orleans, but it was also an obstacle to travel by foot, horse or wagon.
Before the building of locks and dams, the river was shallow enough to ford in times of dry weather, but most of the time the water level required a different method of crossing. Just as the need for river shipping resulted in the construction of warehouses and landings, the need for river crossings resulted in the building and operation of ferries. The ferries supported the landings by increasing the area these early commercial businesses served.
One of Jessamine County’s earliest ferries was at the mouth of Tate’s Creek. A charter was established in 1785 when the Virginia Assembly, with Patrick Henry as governor, granted John Craig a franchise to operate a ferry between Fayette and Madison Counties at the mouth of Tate’s Creek, which runs into the Kentucky River. This was before Kentucky was a state.
The Valley View Ferry, as it is called today, is the oldest ferry west of the Appalachian Mountains and also known as the oldest, continuously operated business in Kentucky, having formed seven years before the state.
The John Craig II towboat flies two flags—one from Virginia and the other from Kentucky. It is literally the lifeline for residents of Valley View and those nearby who commute to Richmond in Madison County or Nicholasville in Jessamine County and to Lexington.
The Land family owned it from 1875 to 1950. It was a wooden raft that could only carry a few passengers on foot or horseback and a wagon or buggy. It was powered by oars or pulled by ropes submerged in the river that was attached to trees or anchors on both sides of the river. The rope would be attached to the upriver side of the barge so the operator could grab the rope and pull the barge across the water. This was the way it operated for nearly 150 years.
In 1930, Land purchased a used towboat from the Boonesboro Ferry, which had been replaced by a new highway bridge. He brought the boat 20 miles downriver and attached it to the barge that he had previously built. The barge had a steel hull with a wood-planked deck. In 1948 he replaced it with the towboat Julia, named after his daughter. He also purchased a steel barge built in Madison, Indiana. He had also salvaged steel beams from an abandoned railroad bridge and installed an overhead cable system to guide the ferry across the river.
Claude Howard of Madison County was the ferry’s last private owner, until he sold it in 1991 to Fayette, Jessamine and Madison counties, to be operated by a seven-member board under the Valley View Ferry Authority. Under this joint partnership, it is currently owned and operated by the governments of Jessamine, Fayette and Madison counties.
Past Chairman and Valley View Ferry historian George Dean says, “On New Year’s Eve 1995, the Julia sank during a blizzard. It was replaced by the John Craig towboat.”
Due to age, the board secured state and federal grants during 2011-2012 and launched a capital improvement program in 2015, which included a new overhead cable system, landing improvements and new barge, in addition to a new towboat, the John Craig II.
Board chair Todd Lockhart says the ferry located on KY 169 “takes three vehicles—about 300 a day—as well as bikes and passengers 650 feet across the river in two to three minutes.”
Lockhart expressed recent sadness with the loss of David Sanders in June, their captain of five years, who lived in the Valley View community. “Once you talked to him you were friends for life. It was a big loss for the crew who worked with him and for the regular ferry passengers who had gotten to know him.”
Other captains include Clayton Embry and Eddie Miller.
The ferry runs Monday–Friday, 6 a.m.–6 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. It is toll free. Vehicles over 24 feet in length or over 24 tons total weight are not allowed due to size and weight restrictions.
Check Facebook: Valley View Ferry for operational status.