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eBay Tuesday: Governor Winthrop Ferry

Before there was a bridge, this boat used to carry the New London-Groton traffic

Crossing the Thames River these days is as easy as hopping onto I-95 and heading over the Gold Star Bridge. There's even a pedestrian route if you prefer to head over on foot or bike. If you head to the ferry port and request a ride across the river, they'll probably tell you to stop kidding around and ask if you want to go to Block Island, Fishers Island, or Long Island. But back before the bridge, these boats were your best option for getting to Groton.

This week's featured eBay item is a postcard of the ferry boat "Governor Winthrop" on the river. It is offered by seller bdavidk27 of Tatnuck, Mass.

According to Connecticut History Online, Noank shipbuilders Robert Palmer & Son built the ferry in 1905. Mystic Seaport's Connecticut Ship Database says 11 people manned the 389-ton, almost 135-foot long wooden steamer. The Thames Ferry Co. ran it until 1917, at which point the city of New London took it over.

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Naturally, the service was not without its hiccups. The ferry collided with another steamer in 1913, although this apparently did not cause much damage. Teenagers crossed regularly from Groton to attend high school in New London, and in 1917 a crew member had to scold a rowdy group of students after considering that they "acted more like a band of hoboes than young gentlemen." With the Governor Winthrop home ported in New London, this city had more control over fares and other aspects of the service, much to Groton's chagrin. In 1912, the Groton Board of Trade suggested that it would be best if the state ran the service.

Motorists disembarking on the Groton side had to scale the Groton Heights, a task so formidable that Texaco incorporated it into a local advertisement appearing in the Providence Evening Journal in 1917. "It's a bad hill and the situation is complicated by the fact that a dozen or more cars usually start the climb at the same time. As a result there is a decided feeling of pride in the breast of the man whose car more than holds its own in the race to the top," the advertisement reads. "Give your car a fair chance to show what it can do on this hill, and others like it, by using Texaco Motor Oil."

Anyone who has seen a foggy morning on the Thames won't be surprised to learn that the service slowed down when these conditions were in place. In October of 1919, while taking a load of workers to the Groton Iron Works, the ferry suffered heavy damage after colliding with the submarine tender Bushnell in the fog. By this time, the Groton-New London ferry service's days were numbered. The completion of a second railroad bridge in the same year allowed the first bridge to be converted to a highway crossing over the river.

This postcard has an opening price of $3.50, with an additional $1.50 for shipping and handling. The seller says the postcard was mailed in 1907 and has slight edge wear. The auction ends at approximately 6:05 a.m. on Friday.

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Clark van der Lyke May 16, 2012 at 12:31 PM
New London still retains the right to run a ferry in the New London City Charter.

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