THE SEAVEY FERRY
Lane County Historian XXXIV, #3, Fall 1979
June 29, 2023 | View PDF
Seavey, probably shortly after he took up residence on the north side of the river in 1855. There was a trail (in later years a dirt road passable by horse and buggy in the summer) running from the Seavey ranch along the north side of the river to the Armitage crossing, but the ferry provided the main access. During the years when Seaveys grew hops and until the CCC’s completed an improved road along the north side of the river in the ’30s, all the hop pickers as well as the hops on their way to market crossed on the ferry.
In 1979 Harvest Lane in north Springfield gives access to the old ferry landing. The river channel has changed since the ferry quit operation. There is a gravel bar along the north side. That bar was built the last few years the ferry ran. Users built a platform out about one-third of the way across to drive out on because the river had become too shallow for the ferry to get up to the hank.
George Logan of Springfield remembers a time when the cable broke and the ferry swung downriver 150 yards. They pulled it back up with a team of horses and repaired the cable. When George Logan went to work for Seavey in 1927 the ferry in service was fairly new. The old one was pretty well rotted out, but still sitting on the bank. He couldn’t tell me whether that old one was the original ferry or one in a series. There was a “fin” about 2 x 14 feet on the upper side of the boat which could be let up or down that helped propel the craft across the water. When it was lowered into the water the current ran against it, pushing the ferry across the stream, guided by the cable from which it was suspended. Mr. Logan said you could set the ferry after you got off and it would go back across the river by itself.
Rodakowski’s lived on the farm at the south end of the crossing in the early years of the twentieth century. There was a big tree on their place to which the cable was anchored. Mr. Rodakowski said the ferry was used occasionally for a year or two after his marriage in 1941. Then it remained tied to the bank until purchased for use in a movie being filmed in the area. He pointed out that Bob Goodpasture also had a ferry before the Goodpasture bridge went in. That ferry also was sold to the movie makers.
One recollection tells of a time when the river got really high and brought the ferry right to Alexander Seavey’s door. He, being a seaman, knew how to get it back to the river. Alexander’s youngest son, Jim, was in charge of running the ferry one summer. When people came to the south bank and wanted to cross they would halloo to raise somebody at the house, and sometimes had to wait an hour or more before they could reach anyone to bring the boat across to them.
Another recollection of a former user was that this ferry was still in operation after Spores and Deadmond’s had both discontinued service. Fishermen who had been fishing the McKenzie River found it very convenient and appreciated the crossing service because it saved Springfield residents a good many miles.
There is no record that this ferry was ever licensed for public service or ever charged a fee for crossing. Since it served primarily to link the Seavey Ranch with the outside world, it was really a private transportation system made available to others as a convenience.
The ferry platform could accommodate two Model T’s at one time. It would haul a team and wagon with 30 two-hundred-pound bales of hops, plus the driver and the ferryman, a total of four tons or better. It was important for the load to be well distributed during the late summer months because there was a danger of going aground if the load got off balance.
Harry Harbert, who began work for Seavey at the age of 14 and worked for several years between 1918 and 1924, was one who crossed the river hundreds of times on that ferry. Mr. Harbert was born on the Deadmond place down river about two miles and remembers that the Deadmond Ferry was still operating in 1914. “Everybody who had to cross the river in those days built a ferry,” he said, “because they couldn’t afford to build bridges which were likely to wash out during high water.”
Mrs. Elkow began working at Seavey hop yards soon after she came to Oregon in 1919. She hoed and trained hops during the summer months, then picked hops in the fall. She remembers that it took 10 to 15 minutes to cross the river. During the hop-picking season when the rains began, often the river would be high and it was a fearsome crossing and went much faster.
She said whole families used to come bringing their cow and sometimes chickens as well. The cow would go in the pasture with Seavey animals, to be milked morning and evening for the family table. The family spent the month in a cabin or tent provided for hop pickers. Seavey’s ran a store where the pickers could buy staples. Back of the store was a dance hall where dances were held on Saturday nights. Usually, some of the pickers had musical instruments and provided music for the dances. Many of the buildings burned years ago, but the store and dance hall building still remains.
During the growing and picking season, hopyard workers who did not live on the ranch would come to the river bank each morning and wait for the ferry. A man from the ranch brought the ferry across about the same time each morning. They might get a day’s work. If there was nothing for them that day they walked back to Springfield after regular help had been ferried over to work. When the picking began there was work for everyone. W.T.D. Franklin was the foreman at the hop yards for many years. His son, Farmer Franklin, arrived from Missouri with the family in 1912. He started high school in Springfield in 1913. He went to school on horseback from the Seavey ranch, crossing on the ferry and riding into town each day. He recalls that everything went out from the Seavey ranch by ferry until about 1930. His mother was a friendly person who enjoyed other people’s company and felt isolated on the Seavey ranch, partly because it was almost impossible for a woman alone to wind those windlasses. A husky man was hard put to manage alone if the water was low and motive power came primarily from the cable. There was a pike pole on the ferry to help them along when needed. He noted that the ferry hauled 500 people and their rigs in and out during the picking season.In the winter when the river was really raging they couldn’t cross at all. And the Franklins were there until 1937. One Thanksgiving and one Christmas stand out in Mr. Farmer’s memory as times of isolation. There’d be lots of drift in the river, even big trees, and it was too dangerous to attempt a ferry crossing. Sometimes they’d be marooned for two or three weeks at a time. Once a child died on the ranch during high water and his body had to be taken on horseback to Mohawk and across Hayden Bridge to get it to the mortuary. This brief excerpt from WILLAMETTE VALLEY PORTRAIT AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD,
page 909, describes the man who first put the Seavey Ferry into operation.“Alexander Seavey was born in Rockland, Maine, on April 1, 1824. As a lad, he played in the sands of Penobscot Bay... As he grew older he used to go out in fishing boats, and his joy and sorrow were gauged by the size of the catch which he sold as a means of livelihood. Gradually the shore limit grew tiresome, and to realize his dreams he embarked in a sailing vessel in the West Indian trade in 1849, shipping as mate on the Bark Challenge. The Challenge burned off the Brazilian coast, the crew making their escape in boats. For three days the faithful mariners wandered around the open sea, and after reaching land remained on Brazilian territory until the following July. Taking passage on a Scotch ship, Oughtertyre, from Aberdeen, Scotland, Mr. Seavey learned that the former crew, with the exception of the captain and the cook, had died of yellow fever. This boat was destined for San Francisco, and one hundred and seventy-three days were required .... on the trip. Once in California, Mr. Seavey went to the mines of Trinidad ... where he ran a pack train. Then he started a little store on Althouse Creek, Josephine County, Oregon, in partnership with George O. Collins. At the end of five years, Mr. Seavey sold out to his partner and went on a mining expedition to the Rogue River. In 1855 he came to Lane County and took up one hundred and sixty acres of land in the hills, three miles north of Springfield, and there engaged in stock-raising on a large scale, starting with a hand of 350 cows and calves. With the money made from this successful enterprise he purchased his present farm of eleven hundred acres, and in 1883 started hop-raising on a small scale, gradually increasing until his one hundred acres are invaded by an army of pickers every fall and reap for their employer a handsome fortune...”