The Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry shuttled passengers and vehicles across the Chesapeake Bay from the western shore at Annapolis to the east at Claiborne, a community near St. Michaels, from 1919 to 1952. In its later years, the company ferried about two million passengers and one million cars annually. When the Gov. William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge (also known simply as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge) opened in 1952, ferry service stopped, and not just for the Claiborne-Annapolis company; ferries around the Bay soon became obsolete.
In 1915, $50,000 was appropriated by the State Roads Commission to establish a state-owned ferry, but with the onset of World War I, planning was put off until 1919. The first official run of the new company was made on June 19, 1919 by the sidewheeler Gov. Emerson C. Harrington. She was named after the 48th Governor of Maryland and made two trips daily, crossing the Chesapeake in an hour and a half.
When Governor Harrington’s term of office was over in 1921 he became president of the company. By 1928, it had been reorganized and renamed the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry Company (previously the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry, Inc.).
In the summer of 1930, a second, shorter route was added that traveled from Annapolis Harbor to Matapeake on Kent Island. The Claiborne route was amended to stop at Romancoke on Kent Island, and from there passengers could catch another ferry from Matapeake to Annapolis. Business began to increase rapidly with these route changes, and over the years more ferryboats were added to the line.
In 1937, a new terminal was built at Sandy Point on the western shore near Annapolis. In the photo, the ferry pictured appears to be the Gov. Harry W. Nice, placed into service in 1938 and capable of transporting 65 vehicles and 730 passengers. Today, part of the Sandy Point terminal still stands to the right of the southbound span of the Bay Bridge.
When plans for building a bridge across the Bay became imminent, the state knew the ferry companies would soon be put out of business. So in 1941, the Maryland State Roads Commission purchased the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry Company and renamed it the Chesapeake Bay Ferry System. Two years later, the United States Naval Academy absorbed the property containing the Annapolis Harbor terminal, prompting the western terminal to be moved to Sandy Point for the remainder of the route’s run.
By 1952, all ferry service for the former Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry Company had ceased. Rumor has it that on one of the final crossings a few weeks before the bridge opened, the ferry John M. Dennis “accidentally” rammed the bridge. How and why varies depending on the account told. The final crossing was completed on July 30, 1952 – the same day the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened to traffic.