Hatton Ferry is the last poled ferry in the United States, and As of 2010 is owned and operated by a non-profit group formed for that purpose. A seasonal service, the Hatton Ferry operates on a weekend schedule from April to October. The ferry is currently not operating. Management of the Hatton Ferry is being transferred back to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.
Before railroads, river transport was the primary manner of commercial transportation in Virginia. At least seventeen ferries were authorized in Albemarle County by the mid-19th century. The first ferry, authorized in 1744, was located on the Rivanna River, north of “Free Bridge,” which is located east of Charlottesville. The following year, a ferry was authorized on the James River near the current town of Scottsville. This ferry was the predecessor of Hatton’s Ferry, which opened nearly a century later. Cargo consisted of wagons, buggies, horses, cattle, sheep, farm equipment, lumber, and farm produce.
In the late 1870s, James A. Brown rented (and eventually purchased) a parcel of land on the James River border of Albemarle and Buckingham counties. He faced significant pushback from landowners on the Buckingham side of the James, despite the fact that he had a court order from Buckingham and Albemarle declaring his right to operate the ferry. In 1881, “Brown’s Store” became a stop on the new Richmond and Allegheny Railroad built on the bank of the earlier James River and Kanawha Canal. In 1883 a public road was opened to the site and a post office was authorized. “Brown’s Store” (or “Brown’s Landing) and its surroundings acquired the name “Hatton” after the assistant U.S. Postmaster General.
In 1906, James B. Tindall of Buckingham, son-in-law of one of the ferrymen (Civil War veteran George A. Tapscott) began renting Brown's store. In 1914 after the death of Brown and his widow, he purchased the ferry and store from Brown's descendants. Tindall deeded the ferry and its operations to the state in 1940, and the Virginia Department of Highways took over. 
By 1970, the cost of operating and maintaining Hatton Ferry exceeded its income. Albemarle and Buckingham Counties, who equally shared the costs, considered discontinuing service. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes destroyed the ferry and further strengthened the argument to discontinue service. A group of Albemarle residents, including James Tindall Jr., petitioned for its survival. A new ferry was built by the Virginia Department of Transportation and it was rededicated in September 1973. Richard Thomas, star of the TV series, "The Waltons," spoke at the dedication.
Since 1906, the full-time ferrymen of Hatton’s Ferry include Joe Napier, Bolling Bryant, Monroe Napier, Luther Randolph, Harvey Briddle, Raymond Hackett, and Ned Hocker. Men were hired to operate the ferry from 'sun to sun' seven days per week; each was paid a salary and furnished with a certain amount of groceries, flour, and sugar to support his family. These men had to master the surprisingly difficult task of not sinking the flat-bottomed boat. Cargo had to be carefully balanced and remain still, which was especially hard to manage when livestock was transported.
2009 threatened closing
Amid budget cuts VDOT planned to close the ferry as part of its 2009 service reductions. The County appropriated $9,300 to keep the ferry running through October 1, 2009, although the funding may be made up from donations to the ACHS.
In November 2006, VDOT established a December 31 deadline for the ferry to be transferred to another entity, otherwise it would be closed. After Albemarle County agreed to temporarily accept ownership of the ferry, but only if a non-profit could be formed to take over its operations.
In 2010, Hatton Ferry Inc., a nonstock corporation run by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, took responsibility for the ferry from VDOT.
In 2020, the ferry was beached on the Buckingham side of the James River after a storm.
On June 6, 2021, the beached ferry was placed back into the water. Inspections of the cables and the barge are necessary before it can be used again. For the last two seasons, a lack of insurance limited operations.
Hatton Ferry Inc., received funding from private individuals and support from Historic Buckingham, Buckingham County, and the city of Scottsville. The latter organizations are working with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society to formulate the future of Hatton Ferry Inc.
Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society Executive Director Tom Chapman expressed the desire for Hatton Ferry Inc. to become a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, fully independent from the Historical Society. Until then, Chapman is emphasizing the importance of transparency and sustainability, and the ACHS continues to seek volunteers and donations to support Hatton Ferry.
Community History Series
- The Hatton Ferry. Web. 21 June 2010. <http://thehattonferry.org/>.
- Web. Ferries In Virginia/TheHatton Ferry/Heritage, Meyer, Roger Dean, Website, The Historical Marker Database, November 16, 2016, retrieved June 1, 2021.
- Web. The Hatton Ferry ca. 1910, Website, Scottsville Museum, 2018, retrieved June 1, 2021.
- Web. Ned Hocker, Hatton Ferry Poleman, Website, Scottsville Museum, 2018, retrieved June 1, 2021.
- Hatton Ferry website, Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, retrieved 12 Jul 2009.
- VDOT FINALIZES SERVICE AREA PROPOSALS, Press release, VDOT, May 20, 2009 retrieved 12 Jul 2009.
- Board of Supervisors Approves Hatton Ferry Funding Press release, Albemarle County, July 1, 2009, retrieved 12 July 2009.
- Historical Society hit with Hatton tab, Hawes Spencer, The Hook, 12 July 2009.
- Web. Hatton Ferry’s future requires a non-profit owner, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, retrieved 16 Nov 2009.
- Web. WATCH NOW: Hatton Ferry returned to river amid revival efforts for historic barge, Wrabel, Allison, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, June 5, 2021, retrieved June 7, 2021.