History Surrounds Ice’s Ferry, Bridge

Morgantown Dominion Post
14 May 2011
By John Samsell

Curiosity get the better of us as contractors prepare to build a new bridge to replace the Ice’s Ferry span across Cheat Lake along W.Va. 857.

We know there is much history surrounding the bridge location and the lake bed that once housed an entire community. Some remember buildings that existed in that area when there actually was an Ice’s Ferry carrying people across Cheat River.

Others recall playing baseball at a field eliminated when the river was dammed for its hydroelectric capabilities.

Elliott’s roller mill, built in 1840, was one of the facilities near where the ferry crossed.

The first bridge was erected in 1900, but it was destroyed by an ice floe in 1918. One section of the current bridge was erected in 1920. Extensions were added when the river was converted into a lake.

The area had at least 16 ferries operating from time to time between the early 1780s and 1806. The Ice’s Ferry vessel was among the most prominent because of its location. It provided a way to move people, animals and vehicles from Morgantown to the east side of the river.

One of the most famous people to cross the ferry was George Washington, on his survey of an east-west road in 1784. As a boy, Washington also did some surveying in this region for Lord Fairfax, who was granted a vast area of land in western Virginia. He had nearly 300 tracts of land surveyed in this region.

Fairfax, who considered himself a British subject, was saved from embarrassment during the Revolutionary War because of his friendship with Washington. Fairfax became despondent when the British were defeated Oct. 19, 1781, and died soon after at the age of 92.

Before the war ended, the government of Virginia began taking Fairfax’s property and giving it to settlers. That region today lies in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, back to the Ice’s Ferry Bridge (or Cheat River Bridge if you prefer), that’s to be replaced by October 2012. Efforts by the state to sell the iron bridge for a dollar didn’t materialize, so the contractor will dismantle it as a new span is built.

When the ferry was about to cease operations in 1900, there was a near tragedy involving local citizens. They had crossed on the ferry in their carriage, heading to Mont Chateau. On the return trip, their carriage toppled into the river. All passengers were rescued unharmed.

Isaac Hastings operated the ferry in 1877. By 1882, it was used by a four-horse stage coach that carried passengers from Morgantown to Uniontown, Pa.

When the first bridge across the Cheat at that location was destroyed by ice in 1918, the ferry was in operation under the management of Harry Hall. It remained in operation until the new span was finished in 1920.

For many years after the lake was formed, local residents talked about the hazards that could be in store for swimmers and boaters. They thought that barbed-wire fences and farm buildings were still under the water where a person could be snagged and injured.

Although there have been many drownings in the lake during its existence, none was associated with underwater hazards that I know of.

There have been instances of people being killed or injured near the bridge. Although swimming in that area has been prohibited, some young swimmers still used the span as a diving board.

There also have been times when stolen goods, such as a safe, have been dumped into the lake near the bridge.

Now, we are entering a new era, with new stories about the 2012 Ice’s Ferry Bridge.

John Samsell is a retired copy editor/ special sections editor for The Dominion Post. His column appears Saturday. Send email to johnsamsell@hotmail.com.