Upland Chronicles: 4 ferries once crossed French Broad in Sevier County

Dec. 10, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Between 1788 and 1944 there were four ferry crossings on the French Broad River in Sevier County. The ferries were flat barges pulled across the river by cables stretched from shore to shore and moved by the force of the current.

The first ferry built on the French Broad River in the county was located on a branch of the Great Indian War Path. The path crossed the river near the mouth of Boyd’s Creek. Andrew Evans established the first ferry there in 1788 and received permission to operate a public ferry in 1790.

The Brabson Ferry succeeded the Evans Ferry at the same location. John Brabson ll purchased the plantation in 1798 and the ferry was operated by John Brabson ll and subsequently by his heirs until 1918.

The John Brabson and Company Store was built near the ferry landing in the early 1800s. The commercial center surrounding the store included a tannery, flour mill, blacksmith shop and brick kiln. A post office was located in the store from 1821 until 1911.

During the spring thaw of 1918, the ice on the river began to break up and the ferry boat was swept from its moorings and carried downstream. The damage was so extensive that the ferry was not rebuilt.

The second ferry was located in the first bend east of the mouth of the Little Pigeon River. Over the years this ferry was known as Hubbert Ferry, Bryan Ferry, Ellis Ferry and finally Kyker Ferry.

Hubbert Ferry was established by James Hubbert in 1792. The ferry was taken over by Allen Bryan, husband of Hubbert’s daughter Betty sometime before 1820 and therefore known as Bryan Ferry. William Ellis owned the property on the south side of the river.

After the death of Allen Bryan, Sr. in 1839 his second wife Elizabeth McSpadden Bryan continued to oversee the plantation and ferry until her death in 1862. The Sevier County Quarterly Court awarded James Ellis the privilege of keeping a public ferry boat at Bryan’s Ferry.

The ferry was called Ellis Ferry until Andrew Jackson Kyker purchased the ferry landing on the south side in 1901 from Miss Kate Ellis. The ferry on the north side was used with permission of the descendants of Hugh and Nancy Ellis Goforth who owned the property. Following the death of Andrew Kyker in 1905 his son, Arthur Kyker operated the ferry until it was discontinued in 1944.

Tommy Hickman assisted Arthur Kyker as a ferryman in the 1920s and Clifford Atchley was a ferryman in the 1930s. The charge was 25 cents per car for a one-way crossing.

Kyker’s Ferry was located near the spot where the Highway 66 Bridge currently crosses the river.

The third ferry was located near the mouth of Dumplin Creek where Andrew McCleary owned 200 acres on the north side of the river and later acquired a 381-acre land grant on the south side. McCleary received permission to operate a public ferry in 1794.

In 1818 Abraham McCleary willed property, including the ferry landing on the south side of the river to his daughter Martha, wife of Stephen Underdown who then acquired the ferry landing on the north side of the river from his wife’s sister. Stephen Underdown operated the ferry and a store near the ferry landing.

In 1873 the south side of the ferry and the ferry landing was purchased by Henry and Edmond Hodges. The landing on the north side also served as loading dock for steamboats. In 1900 Isaac and George Smith purchased the Underdown Ferry and soon sold it to the Hodges family who owned the south side of the river. Hodges Ferry succeeded Underdown Ferry and was in operation until the mid 1920s.

In 1887, structures were built by Scottish Carolina Lumber and Land Company for the purpose of catching, holding and storing logs and timber floating down the river. The Underdown Post Office opened in 1890 with William Keener as postmaster.

The south side of the river later owned by the Hodges family was the site of the Edward Hodges Sand and Soil Company on McCleary Road.

The fourth ferry to be established on the French Broad in the county was Hodge Ferry, not to be confused with afore mentioned Hodges Ferry. The Hodge Ferry was located a short distance upstream from Brabson Ferry.

In 1836 John Kerr divided his estate among his wife and children. The ferry site was inherited by one of his daughters Fartha, wife of G.W. Petty. Mary E. Petty, daughter of G.W. and Fartha Petty and wife of Alfred Hodge, inherited the property and Alfred Hodge received permission to operate a ferry there in 1843.

Before the ferry, Alfred Hodge’s family owned flatboats that were used to transport grain and livestock to Knoxville and to transport farm produce from the island nearby. The Hodge heirs continued operating the ferry until 1944.

During the construction of Douglas Dam, five men who were working on the project apparently missed the road leading to the dam on a foggy morning taking the road to Hodge Ferry instead. Due to the dense fog, they ran into the ferry boat and into the river. All five men drowned.

Otha Hodge was the last operator of the ferry. He sold the ferry in 1944 and moved his family to Knoxville.

The five-span steel truss bridge in Dandridge known as the Swan Bridge was purchased by Sevier County from TVA in 1942. The bridged was dismantled and relocated just west of Douglas Dam. It was open to the public in February of 1944. At this time the last two operating ferries in Sevier County, Kyker and Hodge, were discontinued, ending the days of ferry transportation in Sevier County.

— Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.