Horses Crossing the French Broad River on a Ferry

Before there were bridges across the French Broad River, there were ferries. And then there were no bridges across the river, according to F.S. Sondley in A History of Buncombe County North Carolina, when in “1865 the Yankee invasion up the French Broad River burned the bridges at Alexanders and at what is now Craggy. For years thereafter between Asheville and Warm Springs ferries were the only means of crossing French Broad River.”

So how would one who lived in Montford in 1908, get their horses across the river to the Riverside Park Horse Show?

MS283 page 06

Well, by ferry was one way, as evidenced by these incredible photographs.

This is a flat-boat ferry and Sondley goes on to say that to “set over” the ferry was “sometimes propelled across by a pole but usually pulled over the stream by a rope stretched at some feet above the surface of the water from an object on one bank to an object on the other bank and securely fastened at both ends. Sometimes the flat-boat was connected to the overhead rope by another rope fastened at one end to the boat and at the upper end to a large ring through which the upper rope loosely ran; then by turning the front of the boat so that the current of the stream would strike angularly against the boat’s upper side the boat would be impelled slowly by the force of the current from one bank to the other bank.”

MS283 page 08

This photo shows the two men with their horses as well as the ferryman who appears to be using a pole as well as the overhead rope system. From Sondley’s description, he is probably using the pole to angle the boat against the current.

MS283 page 09

Photograph showing the ferry landing on the other side of the river.

MS283 page 08 photo 2

The Sixth Annual Horse Show was held at Riverside Park April 28th and 29th, 1908. The pagoda-styled roof on building to far left is a familiar sight in photographs of Riverside Park. It was a big deal in Asheville, with city schools closing at 12:30 and city employees calling it an afternoon holiday. A parade of sorts was viewed from Montford Avenue homes as the procession of horses and traps proceeded to Riverside.

MS283 page 10

Would there have been other ways to cross the river? Pearson’s Bridge was constructed around 1893 and it was located roughly where today’s Pearson’s Bridge is off Riverside Drive, the first one having been lost in the flood of 1916. Photo below shows the 1893 bridge and the Riverside Park buildings and lakes. Riverside Park’s location was the stretch of flat land past the bridge at Pearson Bridge Road where Asheville Adventure’s Rental and Smoky Mountain Pallets is today.

Photograph by John D. Caldwell, circa 1905-1910, glass plate negative.

I wondered why they wouldn’t have used this bridge to take their horses over, but after studying the structure, I thought maybe it was too long and narrow for horses. But looking over further images in our collection I found this photo taken roughly around the same time of a horse and cart crossing Pearson’s Bridge, in view looking past the people in the foreground.

E826-DS copy

Can anyone help us figure out why the ferry–where they would have had to pay a toll–was used to cross the horses to the other side and not the bridge?

The North Carolina Room recently received this wonderful 1908 photograph album (MS283) from Chan and Miegan Gordon, owners of Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville.

Post by Zoe Rhine


  1. You can still see the remains of the old Pearson Bridge when the river is low. The old bridge and the one they replaced it with both crossed the RR Tracks. The latest one goes over the double tracks and is much higher.

    1. Bill, when the water is low, would you be seeing the bridge remains in the water or on the bank? I’ve always wondered how close the second one was in relation to the first. Zoe

      1. Zoe, coming from Bingham Heights the old bridge can be seen to the left of the new bridge when the river is low. I haven’t been there for several years but if someone hasn’t salvaged it for scrap iron, it’s still there.

  2. Comments from someone who shared this post on another site suggested that perhaps the “horses” pulling the cart in the last photo on the post (which was not from the 1908 photograph album) were mules–the thought being that a mule might have had the tenacity to cross Pearson’s bridge, while a high-bred horse might not have. Zoe Rhine

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