James H. “Sarge” Mills remembers when traveling from Georgia to South Carolina meant going aboard a ferry.
Nowadays it’s as easy as driving across the Furys Ferry Road bridge near Mills’ Evans residence.
In about 1925, when he was 3, Mills said he and his father rode out in the country from their Harrisburg home to travel across the Savannah River on Fury’s Ferry, which carried travelers from the early 19th century until it was replaced by a bridge.
All that remains is the ferry’s name, carried by the road that it once connected.
During the 19th century, some 400 ferries were in operation between the Sand Bar Ferry in Augusta and the river’s source in northeast Georgia. That included Furey’s Ferry, which operated from what is now the yard of Bobby and Lorrain Banks, who live in Ferry Landing, on the Georgia side of the river.
A June 25, 1931, article in The McCormick Messenger summed up the ferry’s history, stating that it was built by “John Cruikshank, of Charleston, S.C., purchased by Augusta merchant John Furey, inherited by George D’Armaud and sold to. J.L. McKie.”
John Furey, the ferry’s namesake, chartered it in 1816. Furey “was a typical affluent fellow in Augusta during the late 18th and early 19th centuries,” said Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta Inc.
Furey was co-owner of Furey and Stewart in downtown Augusta and owned two other stores, a plantation, dwellings and a tan yard.
The road that was to become Georgia Highway 28 – now known as Furys Ferry Road – was constructed through parts of Augusta, Martinez and Evans. Once ferry service started, travelers could continue up what had been a major Indian path into South Carolina.
Typical rates to ride the ferry during the 1840s were 75 cents for wagons and four-wheeled carriages, 25 cents for carts or two-wheeled carriages, 12-1/2 cents to cross with your horse and 2 cents for pedestrians.
Goods shipped on the ferry included bacon, cotton, flour, produce and tobacco. Some livestock was ferried or swam over, including cattle, sheep, hogs and goats.
McCormick County historian Bob Edmonds, in his book McCormick County: Land of Cotton, writes that Furey’s Ferry was: “...of simple design, a flat-bottom boat that often was pushed across the stream by a number of men using poles. Rigging a rope or cable across the stream to hold the boat against the current modified the ferry. ... A final innovation introduced a gasoline motor for power to propel the ferry. Average size may have been 60 or 70 feet long and 8 feet wide.”
After Furey’s death in 1818, the ferry was operated by his wife, Martha, for a number of years. It ended up with J.L. McKie in the mid-19th century. Later, the ferry went to Dr. Thomas Ross McKie, of Merriwether, S.C., and then to his son, Daniel. Eventually, it stopped operation and was dormant for a number of years, partly because of the poor state of the road on either side of the river.
On Jan. 20, 1920, The Augusta Chronicle announced the ferry’s reopening, which brought with it the expectation of more commercial opportunities. “McCormick has been brought 10 miles closer to Augusta and the number of people traveling between Augusta and McCormick will be increased because of it.”
Daniel McKie, president of Furys Ferry Inc., refurbished the ferry.
Edmonds said Jeff Seymore helped McKie, his grandfather, run Furys Ferry during the 1920s and recalled “the flat boat as being wide enough for two cars across and five ends to end.”
On June 7, 1930, the ferry was replaced by “a monarch of the new age.” the Furey’s Ferry Bridge.
In 1985, the present bridge was built, and the original was demolished.
All that remains of the original ferry is a misspelled name, a few concrete and metal relics, all echoes to a way of life that floated away long ago.