Lytle's Ferry

Ferries played a crucial role in moving people and goods across the Ohio River throughout much of New Albany’s history. Although the river could be crossed on foot at the Falls of the Ohio during period of drought or solid ice, ferries were needed the rest of the time. Ferries began porting goods and people at New Albany in the mid-1790s. By the early nineteenth century, several were operating.

Lytle’s Ferry took its name from its owner, William Lytle of Cincinnati. Lytle served as surveyor general of the Northwest Territory. About 1810, he purchased 3,000 acres of land on the south side of the Ohio River, immediately west of Louisville, from Henry Clay. Lytle sent several associates to survey and layout a town that soon became known as Portland. By 1813 it had a wharf, several commercial buildings, taverns, foundries, and a shipyard. A ferry provided cross-river transportation.

Like many early ferries, Lytle’s did not remain in business for long. As a speculator and absentee investor, Lytle soon began selling his assets in Portland. By 1816, the famed riverboat captain and inventor Henry M. Shreve purchased the ferry and continued its operations. He faced stiff competition from several other New Albany-Portland ferries.

Ferry operations eventually became so competitive that operators agreed to standardize maximum rates for freight and passengers, a move that ended price-gouging and haggling but did not stop operators from undercutting one another. Lytle’s ferry distinguished itself with landings on both sides of the river. The one on the New Albany side lay between Fifth and Seventh Streets. Across the river, its counterpart lay the foot of Ferry Street.

After the Civil War, construction of railroad and automobile bridges cut into ferry operations. The opening of the Louisville Bridge, a railroad span immediately west of downtown Louisville, in 1870 inaugurated a new era in cross-river transportation. Ferry traffic declined only modestly,for the bridge carried freight and local commuter trains. The opening of the second Kentucky and Indiana Terminal Bridge, which carried trains and automobile traffic, signaled the end of surviving ferry service between Portland and New Albany. The Louisville and Portland Ferry Company operated steam-powered ferries until 1896, when it closed.

Images

New Albany Riverfront, 1838

New Albany Riverfront, 1838

Image of an 1838 lithograph by Samyn Cincinnati depicting New Albany as seen from Portland. The New Albany riverfront bustled with trade and commerce throughout the nineteenth century. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd Public Library Digital Collections | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections | Creator: Samyn Cincinnati View File Details Page

Ferry Route

Ferry Route

The route of the New Albany-Portland Ferry shown on an 1873 map of Louisville, New Albany, and Jeffersonville. Image courtesy of Library of Congress | Source: From Map of the City of Louisville, New Albany, and Jeffersonville (Louisville: German and Brothers, 1873)., Library of Congress  | Creator: William C. Coghlan, German & Bro. View File Details Page

Falls City Ferry and Transportation Company

Falls City Ferry and Transportation Company

Postcard dated 1921 shows the Falls City Ferry and Transportation Company's Louisville ferry at a dock. Ferries continued to link New Albany and Louisville until supplanted by automobile bridges. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections View File Details Page

Steamboat Hope

Steamboat Hope

The Steamboat Hope was built in New Albany in 1877. It served as a towboat, packet, and ferry. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collection | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections View File Details Page

Steamboat Frank McHarry

Steamboat Frank McHarry

Captain Frank McHarry ran a ferry trade between New Albany and Portland. His steamboat, the Frank McHarry, was built in New Albany in 1867. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Ashley Slavey, Megan Simms, Wes Cunningham, Eric Brumfield, and Katy Morrison, “Lytle's Ferry ,” Discover Indiana, accessed June 23, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/137.

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