Bemus Point, N.Y. -- One of the nation's oldest cable ferries, located on Chautauqua Lake in Western N.Y., is currently up on skids, undergoing much-needed repairs.
However, officials from the Sea Lion Project Ltd., the all-volunteer group dedicated to maintaining and keeping the Bemus Point-Stowe Ferry running, say the work should be complete by the end of July, said Chris Flanders, a spokesperson for the group.
When it first built by local resident Thomas Bemus in 1811, the ferry linked the east and west shorelines of Chautauqua Lake at the lake's narrowest point.
It was initially a hand-powered, a small raft with ropes, used primarily for agricultural purposes, moving wagons, cattle and sheep between the two shores. Otherwise, it was a 20-mile trip around the lake.
The current ferry is essentially a flat barge measuring 34 by 64 feet with small cupolas on either end.
The need for a ferry on the lake was decreased in 1986 with the construction of bridge for Route 86 that spans the lake a short distance away.
"I'm 70 now. Growing up here, it was the biggest deal -- a quick way to get across the lake," Flanders said. "Weddings have been held on it, it was a tradition to use it to cross the lake once you first got your driver's license. All sorts of things."
The trip from one shore to the other takes about 15 minutes on the ferry. The craft travels the same exact route each time, connected to the two shores by two cables. It can carry up to nine cars, and frequently transports bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.
At one time, the craft was maintained by state Highway Department, with those using it paying $1 for a one-way trip. Now, those who use it simply give a donation, Flanders said.
The ferry was inspected by state officials earlier this spring and it was deemed unsafe, requiring the replacement of several steel beams above the craft's steel hull and below the wooden decking. Volunteers have been working on most of the repairs.
"The only person we're hiring is the marine welder," Flanders said.
To follow along as the work progresses and to learn more history about the ferry's service on Chautauqua Lake since 1811, Sea Lion Project has two Facebook pages: "The Historic Bemus Point-Stow Ferry" and "Friends and Fans of the Bemus-Point Stow Ferry."
Donations can be sent to the Bemus Point/Stow Ferry, PO Box 339, Bemus Point, NY 14712. There's also a Go Fund Me Page, "Save the Bemus Point-Stowe Ferry."
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