MILLERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Along Market Street (Route 147) in Millersburg, Dauphin County, is a Pennsylvania Historical Marker commemorating the last survivor of a bygone era — and a major tourist attraction.
Nobody quite knows when the Millersburg Ferry got its start. According to the ferry website, it may have been operating as early as the 1750s, but the first documentation dates from 1817.
Back then, there were few bridges, and ferries were the most common way to cross the Susquehanna River. Dozens of them dotted the riverbanks from New York to Maryland.
Like many of the ferry boats at the time, the Millersburg Ferry was moved across the river by men pushing on poles. In 1873, the ferry acquired its first paddlewheel ferry boat powered by steam. By the 1920s, gasoline replaced steam. Nowadays, diesel engines provide the push.
But while the ferry boats were powering up, the ferry boat era was sputtering out. The first bridges over the Susquehanna were built at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Port Deposit, Maryland, in 1817 — unfortunately, about the same time the Millersburg Ferry was getting started. Over the years, more and more bridges spanned the Susquehanna from New York to Maryland, putting more and more ferry boats out of business.
But the Millersburg Ferry survived. In 1990, Community Banks, N.A. of Millersburg bought the operation, then donated it to the Millersburg Chamber of Commerce. They formed the Millersburg Ferryboat Association, which maintains and operates the ferry. There’s a solid, practical reason to keep it going — it’s the only point you can cross the river between Duncannon and Sunbury, a distance of 40 miles. But many people ride the ferry just for the experience. For them, the journey is the destination. But whatever reason brings riders, they all get a glimpse of what life was once like along the Susquehanna River.