History of the Hatton Ferry

[Historical Crests for the James River]

Standing on the banks of the James River at Hatton Ferry next to the flat-bottomed ferry anchored at the river’s edge, you get the sense that the sounds of the rapids and the expansive view upstream haven’t changed much over time.The fact is, 200 years ago more than a thousand poled ferries carried people across rivers throughout this country, but today the Hatton Ferry is the very last.

Hatton Ferry’s history begins in September of 1870 when Buckingham County authorities issued a court order to maintain a public ferry across the James River to the Albemarle lands of Thomas P. Gantt, an Albemarle distiller, near Totier Creek. Three years later in December 1873, Gantt sold 18 ¾ acres of river front property to James A. Brown (1835-1896), who built a general store there. With the land purchase came the ferry rights established by Buckingham County. Brown, however, ran into trouble with the land owners on the Buckingham side of the river when they informed him and their county board of supervisors that they did not want ferry traffic across their property. Although Brown sought legal help, the Buckingham land owners continued to protest. In January 1874, Brown and Gantt were asked by Buckingham County to show cause why the ferry should not be discontinued. The County then ordered ferry service to cease.

Unable to turn that opposition around, Brown moved his store and ferry upstream to its current location which was also near Lock 24 of the James River and Kanawha Canal. The site became known generally as Brown's, Brown's Store, or Brown's Landing.

Over the ensuing years, Brown's became a thriving transportation hub on the James River. In 1881, Richmond and Allegheny Railroad established a train stop there. In July 1883, Albemarle County authorized a public road to be built from Brown's Landing to an established county highway. A few months later, a post office began operating from Brown's Store. However, the post office's arrival necessitated a new name because there was already a Brown's Post Office operating in northwestern Albemarle County. The name chosen was Hatton. By the late 1890's, Brown's ferry, too, was more commonly referred to as the 'ferry at Hatton' or Hatton Ferry.

Each Hatton business thrived because of the totality of services provided at this location: timber and farm produce were ferried across the river and loaded onto freight trains at Hatton; at the store, ferry customers picked up mail and merchandise shipped into Hatton via train; and the ferry itself provided a vital transportation link between Buckingham and Albemarle Counties.

When Brown died in 1896, Hatton operations were continued by Brown's daughter, Cora, and her husband, Edwin Raine. In 1906, James Benson Tindall, Sr., of Buckingham County rented Brown's Store and renamed it J.B. Tindall's Groceries. He enlisted Eugene Layne, an old Buckingham friend, as his business partner. On September 7, 1914, Tindall purchased from Cora Brown the store, the landing on both sides of the river, and all ferry boats, lines, and oars; the store, and about five acres of land surrounding the store and land. Jim's brother, Lewis Tindall, became his new partner in 1916 when Eugene Layne returned to Buckingham farm life. Tindall Sr. managed it until his death in 1945. The Tindall’s in later years lived on the hill above the store. The Tindall family managed Hatton Ferry operations until 1940 when James B. Tindall, Jr. deeded the ferry to the State of Virginia.

By 1970, the cost of operating and maintaining Hatton Ferry exceeded its revenue, and there was much talk of discontinuing service by Albemarle and Buckingham, who shared the Hatton costs equally. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes destroyed the ferry and almost ended service. An interested public led by James B. Tindall, Jr., Bernard Chamberlain of the Albemarle County Historical Society, Peter Way of Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and other Albemarle citizens persuaded authorities to continue this historic ferry. A new ferry was built by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and it was rededicated in September 1973, with the assistance of Richard Thomas, star of the TV series, "The Walton’s."

By the mid 80’s, VDOT was again contemplating the discontinue of service, but once again Hatton Ferry was saved thanks to efforts of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society who persuaded Albemarle County to allocate funding to operate the ferry, thus allowing VDOT to return it to service. So until 2009, VDOT, Albemarle County, and the Historical Society all supported various functions of the ferry operation.

The Historical Society took on the aspects of promoting it and renovated the ferryman’s hut. It was redesigned it to return it to its original appearance and added a historical kiosk. Now it’s a place for visitors to view history as well as a place for the ferrymen to store life jackets and other things needed to run the ferry.

In 2010, ownership of America’s last poled ferry was transferred to “Hatton Ferry”, a non-profit corporation established by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society to operate the ferry. Now a group of interested citizens from both Albemarle and Buckingham Counties are working together to continue the long tradition of ferry service across America’s River – the James River.

Interesting Tidbits

In the ferry's early years, wagons, buggies, horses, cattle, sheep, farm equipment, lumber, and farm produce were carried across the river. Ferrymen operating Hatton Ferry have included Joe Napier, Bolling Bryant, Monroe Napier, Luther Randolph, Harvey Briddle, Raymond Hackett, Ned Hocker and Ashley Pillar.

On March 9, 1918, the General Assembly authorized the construction of a bridge at Hatton.

The former Brown-Tindall Store was built on a strong foundation comprised of large stones that Brown took from the James River and Kanawha Canal lock #24 about one-half mile away.

Rail service ceased in 1950.

The Hatton Post Office closed on February 28, 1975.