For many Washington area people, the past still lives. We rediscovered this after printing an inquiry by C. Marshall O'Neill of Washington for information about Fox Ferry, which he understood, once carried passengers across the Potomac River.
The phone soon began ringing with responses.
Warren Clardy, president of the Arlington Historical Society, provided a Civil War-era map showing Fox Ferry landing directly across the Potomac River from Alexandria and a modern government map with a point on the river near I-295 still named Fox Ferry Point.
George A. Haas of Fairfax County and his daughter, Patricia (Patsy), now a Treasury Department economist, invited me to view an exhibit of archeological relics of the Fox Ferry landing that they had prepared for a science fair when Patsy was a freshman at Edison High School in 1968. It won her a second prize in the county and region. From their on-the-site visits and a Mathew Brady photograph taken from Alexandria during the Civil War, George Haas made the sketch of the ferry landing printed above.
At far left is the ferry pier. The house in the middle is that of William Fox, the ferry owner. At right is a small hotel, with about six guest rooms, that accommodated travelers waiting overnight for boats.
From a marvelous book by Frederick Tilp of Alexandria, "This Was Potomac River," cited by several readers, came a brief history of the ferry. It was named for its founder, Capt. Joseph Fox, who started the service in 1850 with the boat Alice Fox. A second boat, the Virginia, was put into service on a line to what is now the Blue Plains section of Washington.
William Fox, presumably a descendant, operated the hotel for 11 years during and after the Civil War. Fox Ferry landing (though not the long-gone ferry) was a place for smuggling liquor from Maryland to Virginia during Prohibition.
One man who actually rode the Fox Ferry before its ultimate demise in 1920 told of his trip. Retired Army lieutenant colonel John S. Kintz, 84, now of Silver Spring, said he took it across the river to reach his grandfather's home on the day in 1918 that the latter died. By then, Kintz recalled, the ferry was a small sailboat piloted by the line's last owner, Ben Wheatley.