Ferries have been an important mode of transportation in east Harris County since it was settled in 1822. There have been at least six ferry crossings over Cedar Bayou with four of them between the Hwy 146 bridge and the south end of Ferry Road.
David Kokernot probably had the first ferry on Cedar Bayou located where today’s Needlepoint Road crossed Cedar Bayou. In 1847 Cedar Bayou Postmaster W. J. Mills ran that ferry which later became part of the original Wallisville Road and was referred to by Harris County Commissioners as the mail crossing from Lynchburg to Liberty. In 1859 G. W. Ferrand was granted a license to operate this ferry. The crossing was discontinued when Wallisville Road was rerouted in 1882. Needlepoint Road still exists on both sides of Cedar Bayou, although the road has been rerouted to the north on the Harris County side.
In May 1878 citizens of Cedar Bayou petitioned the County Commissioners to lay out a public road on the west bank of Cedar Bayou to connect to a public road in Chambers County where today’s Hwy 146 bridge crosses Cedar Bayou. The ferry located here was called Milam’s Crossing. There was probably an earlier ferry because a letter from the Chambers County Judge said that the road had been in use there for many years. When the road to Wallisville as rerouted in 1882, this ferry became the crossing over Cedar Bayou. By this time, Harris County specified that ferries were to be no less than ten feet in width and no less than 30 feet in length. In 1916 it was called Williams Landing and was called Tompkins Crossing when the ferry was replaced by a floating pontoon bridge in 1928.
In 1916 another ferry about a mile downstream from Milam’s Bend connected Ben Fisher’s 25-acre tract of land in Chambers County to his relatives in Harris County. This private ferry was probably discontinued sometime after 1922 when Fisher sold his land.
The Schilling ferry connected Dr. Nicolas Schilling’s homestead in Chambers County to the his three acres in Harris County. Dr. Schilling built a garage and kept an automobile on the Harris County side and put in the pull ferry to connect with his house. Annie Schilling inherited her parent’s land and maintained the ferry for the use of her guests and herself. Annie’s property became a popular getaway; in the early 1930s the Tri-Cities Sun mentioned several picnics at Schilling’s Ferry.
In 1857 the County Commissioners laid out the road to Shearn, which was the original name of the Cedar Bayou community, and James Evans was granted a license to operate the ferry near the Methodist church in 1859. Charles Ilfrey bought the property in the town of Shearn on the west side of the bayou and opened a store and took over operation of the ferry in 1860. The Ilfrey family became major landholders in the area, operating the store, a sawmill and the ferry. In December 1876 the “Wallisville Cedar Bayou road to Ilfrey’s Store” was laid out in Chambers County on the west side of Cedar Bayou. The ferry operated as a county licensed ferry until Harris County took over operations and had a new 2 car boat built in 1913. Between 6am and 6pm a county employee was tasked with operation of the ferry but after 6pm all who crossed had to operate the ferry themselves. This probably contributed to an accident in June 1932 which caused the drowning of four people. The chains on both ends of the ferry were not fastened and the parking brake was not set when the car rolled off into the water. A 1933 traffic survey showed this ferry operated 24 hours with 90 cars per day and when a barge crashed into the Cedar Bayou drawbridge in April 1942 the crossing was used as a detour. Another incident occurred in 1944 when an unidentified motorist drove onto the ferry and, there being no attendant, tried to back his car off. He then violated Newton’s third law, enforced more rigidly than any traffic law. When he put the car in reverse, rather than backing off the ferry, he pushed the ferry out from under him and wound up in the bayou, windshield deep. The next morning a wrecker fished his car out. County employee John Frank Strickland was the last operator at the ferry, by now just called the Cedar Bayou Ferry since it was the only one still in operation. In October 1948 the residents of Cedar Bayou filed a petition in expressing concern for the “dangerous and leaking condition of the 35-year-old ferry boat” and voiced unanimous support for replacing it. But rather than replacing the ferry, the county closed the crossing since the Hwy 146 bridge had been built a couple miles to the north.
Ed McKinney opened a ferry in 1931 to shorten the trip to his dance hall at Tri-Cities Beach on the west shore of Trinity Bay. This ferry was located on Cedar Bayou Lake Road just east of today’s Bay Oaks Harbor subdivision. Although it was a motorized boat, the ferry was moved by tugboat from its previous service at Penn City on the San Jacinto River where the Beltway bridge crosses the ship channel. A 1933 traffic survey showed the McKenny ferry operated 24 hours with 65 cars per day. The ferry was out of service for 4 days for a complete overhaul in April 1940 and was later used as a detour when a barge crashed into the Cedar Bayou drawbridge in April 1942. The ferry landing became a popular picnic site and boat launching and fishing spot after the ferry closed about 1944. The road on the west side of Cedar Bayou was closed in 1968 when it became a dumping ground. The road on the east side still exists but in 2018 Beach City changed the name of McKinney Road to McClellan Road. There is currently a barge landing at the site of the old ferry approach in Chambers County.
Today the only reminder of all the different ferries crossing over Cedar Bayou is just the name of the road where most of them were located.
Longtime Baytown resident Chuck Chandler is retired from the Exxon Refinery and currently serves as Vice President of Baytown Historic Preservation Association.