Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

John B. Rehder

Committee Members

Leonard W. Brinkman Jr., Edwin H. Hammond


This thesis examines the role of ferry crossings in the development of East Tennessee's transportation network. Because of the number of streams in the area, ferries were widely used and this study traces their changing location and influence from the 1790's to 1974.

The study revealed that ferry crossings were among the area's earliest internal improvements and that they were the principal method of stream crossing on regularly traveled routes from the 1790's to the late 1920's. In addition to serving as a relatively reliable means of stream crossing, ferry sites took on a variety of functions during this period. Steamboat and flatboat trade flourished in the nineteenth century and ferry landings functioned as foci for commercial activity by providing connections between river and wagon transportation. Because ferry landings were convenient collection points for agricultural items marketed in the water and wagon transport system, local trading centers and country stores were often established near them. Movements of people and goods were oriented by the pattern of routes linked by ferries and their widespread use made them vital in the regional transportation system.

Ferries lost the multiple functions that they had held in the regional economy and transportation system when the automobile replaced the horse and wagon. Steam navigation declined and after the first two decades of the twentieth century the influence of ferries was diminished. By the late 1930's, the role of ferries had been reduced and they were used on less important routes in the transportation system. Prior to the twentieth century ferries were symbols of improved transportation; in the automobile era their slowness caused them to be regarded as obsolete features of the transportation network.

In 1974 only five of the approximately one hundred which operated in the 1890's were still operational in East Tennessee. These ferries provided a savings of distance on routes of limited or local importance. The present ferries also serve as reminders of an historically important transportation system which shaped the past and present geography of the area.

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