The Stow Ferry

Stow Ferry 5

When I was a boy, in the 1950s, my father’s parents had a summer cottage on Hadley Bay of Chautauqua Lake. As everyone knows, the word “chautauqua” is Seneca for “bag tied in the middle,” a reference to the narrow point in the middle of the lake, and it was there that the Bemis Point-Stow Ferry took us across the water, while still in our car, which was so cool, and one of my happiest memories.

Bemus Pt Old

Stow Ferry Tinted copy

The ferry began its trips in 1811, originally just a flat bottom raft propelled by oars and poles. This was followed by the use of ropes stretched between the shores, then a series of pulleys and ropes powered by horses on the shore. By 1887, steel cables were in use, the ferry cranked by hand.

Stow Ferry and Steamer

A steam engine came in 1902, followed by a gasoline engine six years later.

Stow Ferry copy

Stow Ferry 4 Cars copy

Stow Ferry One Car

Stow Ferry Linen

The image of the ferry from the card above can be seen inside the last ‘A’ in “CHAUTAUQUA” in the large letter postcard below:

Chautauqua LL

Stow Better Color

Stow Ferry Keep Back

 Stow Ferry at Bemis Pt

Stow Ferry 1960s copy

Stow Ferry 6

Stow Ferry 1970s

From 1943 to 1983, the ferry was operated by the Chautauqua County Highway Department, but they let it go when a bridge was built across the lake, a honking-big bridge for the Southern Tier Expressway that cast a modern shadow over the Hadley Bay of my boyhood, over the water where we rowed in my grandfather’s ancient wooden boats held together by innumerable coats of gray paint and kept afloat by constant bailing with Maxwell House coffee cans, over the sandbar where Aunt Marie took us to swim and play.

After the bridge, people predicted the ferry’s demise, but it was loved by so many and survives today operated by a non-profit corporation and with its own Facebook page.

Also, if you’d like to see video of the ferry in 1936, click here.




  1. Were foot passengers called “stow-aways”?

  2. Bob James · · Reply

    No, they were called Stow Fairies.

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