History of the
November 20, 1683
Talbot County authorized the establishment of a ferry service for “Horses and Men.” Richard Royston, was paid 2,500 pounds of tobacco per year (about $25) to operate the ferry. Richard Royston was a kinsman of Seth and Elizabeth Foster, who owned Tilghman and Poplar Islands. He came to Talbot County from London as a merchant, and settled in what is now called Ferry Neck, across the river from Oxford, with his wife Mary. The records reveal some fascinating facts about Richard Royston. He was one of Oxford’s founding fathers, and when the town of Oxford was laid out he took up Lot No. 1. It turns out that Royston was also one of the town’s earliest and most grievous sinners. Royston was convicted of forgery in 1686, after he had given up the Tred Avon ferry. Just what was involved does not appear in the record, but the punishment included a public whipping. Royston died at sea in 1694. After his death, the Maryland Assembly formally condemned him as a man whose “life & actions (were) notoriously scandalous in this province”
Early history is vague—other ferry keepers included Amy Jensen, Will Alderne and Isaac Sassaerson. Isaac Sassaerson ran the ferry for five years. It appears that there may have been a brief break in service late in the decade when the county cut off its financial backing and told Sassaerson to continue the service and charge whatever he could get. The predictable result was that the ferry operations stopped.
The service was started again by innkeeper, Thomas Bennett, his wife Judith and family.
Most remarkable proprietor of this era was Judith Bennett. Judith Bennett had 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 “when between spouses.”
William Bennett, son of Judith by her first marriage
Catherine Bennett became the ferry keeper, (it isn’t clear if she was William’s widow or daughter). She was the first to be paid in cash rather than tobacco.
Anthony LeCompte, another innkeeper, ran the ferry for at least seven years.
Elizabeth Skinner was the ferry keeper. Her original ferry was a scow propelled by sculling. The old method of sculling entailed the scow being propelled by a fourteen-foot sweep oar operated at the stern. It required strength and skill few men possessed. It is reported that two Oxford residents, Al Haddaway and Wid Tull were the last two men who could do it, so that the tug was an enormous improvement when it finally came into use in 1886.
Owners unknown (research is currently underway)
The ferry was reestablished with Morris Orem Colston as keeper and is believed to have run continuously since then.
Sails and oars were replaced by a small coal-fired steam tug called the “William H. Fisher.” A small steam tug, with power generated by a coal fire, towed a wooden scow across the river. A signal system was devised, as only the tug was needed to transport passengers. The scow was towed when wagons, horses or later automobiles needed to get across the river.
The steam tug “Fisher” was replaced by gasoline tug “Vivian.” The old tug sure needed replacing, according to an old crewman, “she had a habit of sinking during the night, and a good many mornings we had to pump her out. A couple of times she went down to her gunnels and when we got her up we had to get the crabs and the hardheads out of her.”
William S. Dawson was the reported owner/operator of the “Vivian” until 1931.
Captain Buck Richardson had the first self- propelled ferry, later named the “Tred Avon,” built in Oxford. Buck Richardson, one of Oxford’s most famous sailors, financed the building of a new boat to keep the ferry line alive. The gasoline powered, self-propelled ferry was in service until 1974. It was a wooden structure, 50 feet long, and was constructed at the Oxford yard of Captain Al Sparklin. Captain Richardson’s two sons then ran the ferry for six more years.
Captain William L. Benson took over and began a record run of more than 36 years.
“Captain Bill” converted the “Tred Avon” to diesel power and extended the length from 50 to 56 feet in order to accommodate three cars.
Captain Gilbert “Gib” Clark purchased the ferry and replaced the “Tred Avon” with the “Southside” from Shelter Island, NY.
Dave and Valerie Bittner joined Captain Clark in the family business. Valerie is Gib’s daughter.
The ferry “Talbot” was built of steel by Blount Shipyard in Warren, R.I. and was put into service in July. The “Southside” was used as spare until 1987.
Captain Gilbert Clark retired. Captains Dave and Valerie Bittner continued the service through 2001.
In January 2002 Tom and Judy Bixler purchased the line.
Judy and Tom Bixler ready to sign paperwork to buy the ferry set for 9/11 but delayed by historic terrorist attack on our nation.
Season opens with the Bixlers at the helm. Later in year they purchase a historic smokehouse and move to Oxford Landing to serve as equipment storage shed.
Bellevue Dock and Marina rebuilt and dedicated. Late 2003. Bellevue Landing damaged by Hurricane Isabel but rebuilt and reopened again.
Mini Cooper Event…How many minis can fit on our 9 car ferry? Eighteen!
Oxford Ferry Landing Rebuilt
Full Moon Cruise in June raises funds for historic John Wesley Church Restoration Project.
2006, 2008, 2010
Captain Judy Bixler recognized—Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise Awards in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC
Great Ferry Boat Race—Oxford Bellevue Ferry vs Paddlewheel boats from Suicide Bridge Restaurant. Event raises over $40,000 for charity.
2007, 2009, 2011
Captain Judy Bixler recognized as one of the Top 100 Woman in Maryland and awarded Circle of Excellence status in 2011 with 3 wins!
Ferry celebrates 325 years with US Senator Ben Cardin raising a special 325th flag.
Oxford Bellevue Ferry featured on cover of national magazine, American Profiles
Winner of Oxford Museum’s Douglas Hanks, Jr. Preservation Award.
Oxford Bellevue escorts tall ship El Galeon into the Port of Oxford.
Judy and Tom Bixler receive Talbot County’s Community Impact Award.
Judy Bixler elected Chairperson of Maryland’s Tourism Development Board. Oxford Museum feature exhibit on Oxford Bellevue Ferry
US Senate recognizes Oxford Bellevue Ferry as Small Business of the Week. Judy Bixler recognized as Influential Leader in the Year of the Woman.
The Oxford Museum and Maryland Historic Trust helped to fund a historic display on the ferry. Panels give riders a view of the long history of the ferry.