Sistersville ferry still a vital mode of transport

SISTERSVILLE, W.Va. – Twice a day, five days a week, for the better part of 18 years, Lori Jones has ridden the ferry across the Ohio River from Sistersville to Fly in the morning and back in the afternoon.

Without it, she’d be putting an extra 70-plus miles on her car each time she went to and from her job in Ohio.

“It’s faster to get home in the evening and to my kids’ athletic events,” Jones said, sitting in her car as the Sistersville Ferry made its way back to the Mountain State side of the Ohio River at Sistersville.

About an hour-and-a-half earlier, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., residents Don and Diane Karney were in line in their car to go from West Virginia to Ohio by ferry. Diane is originally from Alma and her mother still lives in the area.

“(When) we come up here, we always try to hit the ferry,” Don Karney said. “It’s unique. We don’t have anything like that in Florida.”

There’s nothing else like it in West Virginia either, said Eric Peters, executive director of the Tyler County Development Authority and chairman of Sistersville’s ferry board. The Sistersville ferry began operating 196 years ago and is the only commercial ferry still running in West Virginia, as well as the only one on the Ohio River north of Cincinnati.

Jones and Karney typify the uses and users of the ferry: the local residents who use it as an extension of West Virginia 18 and the visitors who consider riding it a novelty.

Ridership has been declining in recent years as plants like Ormet Corp.’s Hannibal facility have closed, but Peters said the ferry is still useful as oil and gas activity in the region builds.

“It’s very important for those companies that that ferry be available,” he said.

Tyler is the only county in West Virginia on the Ohio River where there is no bridge spanning the river. Besides the ferry, drivers have the option of a 36-mile round trip to cross the Hi Carpenter Bridge linking St. Marys and Newport or a 28-mile trek to cross at New Martinsville, Peters said.