I enjoy walking through RiverWalk Park, and have added it to my morning trek along Prescott’s Heritage River Trail. I find the square attractive, and I like the look of the hull-like sculptures that mark the opposite entrances. I find Prescott’s story is nicely captured in the plaques and outdoor artifacts that are the culmination of several years of work by local heritage lovers and the Grenville County Historical Society.
Mostly, I like the sound of the wind…it’s almost always windy along the St. Lawrence, and I like hearing the toggles of the Canadian flag banging against the flagpole in interesting rhythms. I can’t help looking across the water and imagining the hustle and bustle of what once was an important entrance to Canada from the US, via ferry, from Ogdensburg.
During the early days of railway construction in the 1850s, Prescott and Ogdensburg were among the top spots on the St. Lawrence providing rail-marine interchange. Both Prescott and Ogdensburg had railways with terminals in each community. Prescott had the Bytown & Prescott Railway, later the Ottawa & Prescott Railway (to the south) and the Grand Trunk Railway (to the north). Ogdensburg was served by the Northern Railway and its several incarnations (the Ogdensburg Railway, later the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railway).
By the 1860s, the Ogdensburg and the Grand Trunk railroads operated the St. Lawrence, which carried 6 freight cars on her journey across the river. The GTR at this time was a broad gauge railway, and Prescott Junction was built to allow for the transfer of standard and broad gauge tracks.
In 1874, Prescott coal dealer Isaac Purkis sought to replace the St. Lawrence by acquiring the Transit, capable of carrying three freight cars on her deck. He increased his interest in cross river transfer by adding the Jumbo, in 1880, and doubled his car capacity to six freight cars.
Until the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge was built in 1960, the only local access to Canada from Ogdensburg was the ferry which arrived near RiverWalk Park with passengers and cars until 1926, when the dock was moved to the bottom of West Street.
The early ferries between Ogdensburg and Prescott, were row- and sail-boats, and these continued in use until about 1830, when Eli Lusher operated a steam ferry.
Henry Plumb established a steamboat ferry service, in 1832. The Lady of the Lake was one of the first, followed by the Howard, the New York and the Baptiste. In later years, The Levis, The Joseph Dubrule and The M.S. Windmill, all travelled between Prescott and Ogdensburg (see http://www.thousandislandslife.com/BackIssues/Archive/tabid/393/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1077/Bridge-or-Ferry.aspx).
In 1909, the Prescott and Ogdensburg Ferry Co. Ltd. was formed, and bought by Joseph Dubrule and other investors from Prescott. By the 1930s, there was a crossing every 20 minutes (in the summer) and every hour (in the winter) on either the Miss Vandenberg or the Levis.
According to an editorial in the July 1, 1909 edition of The Prescott Journal, the compromise reached on lower ferry fees for evenings and weekends served to draw Prescott and area residents to Ogdensburg instead of vice versa, as was the intention: “On a Saturday evening, which is the evening of the day on which “the ghost walks”, or in other words, the day upon which most labouring men young and old, get their week’s earnings in a chunk, and Saturday evening is the one evening of the week when all local stores are open and ready to cater to the wants of those who have their earnings to spend. But this ten cent ferry business that so many were hooting for, takes at least one-half the money that should be left in Prescott, over to Ogdensburg. It’s only natural that people will go to a larger place when they have the time and the money.”
It’s been 56 years since the last Prescott and Ogdensburg Ferry crossing, and much has changed along Prescott’s waterfront. The latest project, RiverWalk Park, will be a great venue for storytellers or soundscape artists, a significant site for the Town’s new Founder’s Day on December 4th and, more importantly, a welcome addition to our “museum in the streets”. Prescott has an interesting array of heritage markers that include 10 Federal/Provincial plaques and more than 35 other panels of various sizes and subjects…and these make for a great walking tour!