(Easton, MD) – When Tom and Judy Bixler purchased the Oxford Bellevue Ferry twelve years ago, not only did they commit to owning and operating the ferry, they became stewards of a significant slice of history that dates back 330 years. The Oxford Bellevue Ferry is the oldest privately owned car-and-passenger ferry in America.
On November 20, 1683, the Talbot County Commissioners authorized a ferry service for “Horses and Men”. The meeting minutes reveal, “The Court pitcht upon Mr. Richard Royston to keepe a ferry of horses and men over Tred Haven to the towne of Oxford and back gaine”. Royston originated from England in 1670 as an experienced attorney, an agent for a London grocer, and grand jury forman in a much-celebrated hog-stealing case. Talbot’s Colonial Government paid Royston in tobacco, 2500 pounds eqivalent to $25, to operate the ferry.
The ferry service could not have operated in a better port town. Oxford is no ordinary place! The town, established in 1683, shares a 330-year history with the ferry. Along with Annapolis, Oxford became Maryland’s first port of entry for commerce, and quickly developed as a bustling center of trade with tobacco serving as the primary export. The American Revolution ended the flourishing era and prosperity did not return until the 1800s when oyster fishing entered the scene.
During three plus centuries, the ferry’s ownership has often changed to include numerous women. Most notable in the early 1770’s was propriator Judith Bennett, wife of three husbands (Thomas Bennett, John Valliant, and Edward Elliott) each of whom kept the ferry during the marriage and she ran it herself for more than ten years “in between spouses”. Today, Judy Bixler is one of the very few female ferry owner/operators in the entire country. Captain Judy worked on the Shelter Island ferry while she and husband Tom were searching for a ferry line to buy and to earn time on a large vessel that she needed to acquire her Coast Guard Captain’s License. Captain Tom was a mere 18-year-old- college student working aboard the Shelter Island Ferry on Long Island when Captain Gilbert “Gib” Clark, a former owner of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry served as his mentor and convinced Tom to acquire his captain’s license. Gib’s daughter, Valerie, and her husband, David Bittner ran the ferry for over twenty years before selling to the Bixlers in 2001.
Not only did ownership change but also ferrying vessels ranged from a flat-bottom boat propelled by oars to a coal-fired steam tug to today’s steel-hulled Talbot, a 45-ton vessel with twin 170-horse diesel engines. Built in 1980 by the Blount Shipyard in Rhode Island, it is a true double ender, meaning it loads from one end and unloads vehicles and passengers at the other end without having to turn around. The ferry has two engines, two propellers and two rudders. The wheelhouse has wheels, throttles and instrument panels facing both directions so the captain can face either dock.
The Oxford Bellevue Ferry has been a significant place in Talbot County’s history and the nation’s transportation history…. 330 years is a milestone worthy of celebration. “We are excited to salute the great history and service provided by the nation’s oldest ferry and its home town on Sunday, October 13, 2013. Tom and I share a tremendous appreciation for the ferry. We feel our 3-year search was well worth the wait. It’s not only our retirement lifestyle but we take its sustainability seriously and respect its rich historic presence,” cited Judy Bixler.
Mark your calendar for October 13, 2013 and join the celebration on this special day with a ride aboard the nation’s oldest privately owned ferry. The ferry will run every 20 minutes until 6 PM. Car and driver one-way passage is $11 or $18 round-trip and a $1 fee for each additional passenger. Pedestrians (walk-on) passage, one-way is $3 or round-trip $5. Bicycle passage is $4 one-way and $6 round trip. Motorcycles $6 one way or $9 roundtrip and $1 per passenger.
The Bixlers are also planning a short ceremony at 6 PM at the Oxford Ferry Dock followed by sunset cruise with cake and Highland Scottish Creamery handcrafted ice cream. For more information on the Oxford Bellevue Ferry, visit www.oxfordbellevueferry.com