From the Revolution to today: the enduring history of a small Connecticut ferry

Luca Triant, Associate Producer

The Chester-Hadlyme ferry travels to nearby landmarks, such as Gillette Castle State Park on the Hadlyme side, and the Essex steam train on the Chester side. However, as with many things in Connecticut, the ferry service, running between the towns of Chester and Hadlyme, runs deep with history and traits that many associate with the rest of historic Connecticut.

The ferry service began over 250 years ago in 1769, almost a decade before the United States was founded. The service was headed by local entrepreneur Jonathan Warner, who owned land on both sides of the Connecticut River. The ferry started small and was pushed across the river by long poles. Despite its humble beginnings, the ferry was notable for transporting supplies during the Revolutionary War.

The ferry was run by Warner and his descendants throughout the next century under the name ‘Warner’s Ferry’. However, the ferry would formally come under the control of the town of Chester in 1882 when it was renamed the ‘Chester-Hadlyme Ferry,’ as it is known today. Later in 1917, the ferry began to be run by the state of Connecticut.

The service continued to even make headlines as late as 2011 when an effort by the state to close down the ferry for budget cuts was met with resistance from surrounding towns and residents. Due to the pushback, the state government cancelled its plans to close the ferry. Since then, the ferry has continued, even celebrating its 252 years of service earlier this year.

The current ferryboat, Selden III, was built in 1949 and continues to provide a crossing across the Connecticut River between Chester and Hadlyme at Route 148.

People in search of the ferry’s long and storied history can view an exhibit of its history at the Chester Historical Society. Robert Miceli, a historian at the society, spoke about how the ferry is a deep part of the history and experience of Chester.

“It brings people to town because, combined with people going to see Gillette Castle, it’s a fun adventure,” Miceli said. “It’s in a historic part of town. There are a lot of pieces of Chester’s history involved with the ferry itself, including the people that started it. The land around the ferry was owned by this man who was an amazing entrepreneurial kind of guy in the 1700s.”