Crossing the Mississippi between its home port in Canton, Missouri and Meyer, Illinois the Canton Ferry has long provided a vital transportation and economic link between Northeast Missouri and West Central Illinois. Saving over a hundred miles of travel time, the service is utilized by Missouri Farmers transporting grain to the Ursa Farmers Cooperative located in Meyer, for tourists and area citizens.
The first known ferry service began operation a few miles north of Canton around 1844. This ferry carried on a prosperous business providing not only local transportation, but also serving as a gateway to the west for many covered wagon caravans and gold seeking "49ers".
The ferry was established at its present site on February 24, 1853, when a charter was granted by Lewis County to Christian University (now Culver-Stockton College), making it the longest continuously operating ferry service on the Mississippi. Named the "Lewis-Adams" for the counties the service connected, the ferry's charter ties the service connected, the ferry's charter stipulated that fares for crossing would be ten cents for foot travelers, fifty cents for team and wagons while trustees of the college and their families could cross for free. It is presumed due to the recipient of the charter, that the original purpose for the ferry was to transport students to and from the college, a practice that exists to this day.
The early ferries were equipped with two sloped treadmills on either side of the barge with a horse on each treadmill providing the power to turn the side paddles.
On June 8, 1940 the "modern era" of the Canton Ferry Service began when twenty-six Canton business owners each donated $100.00 to buy a twenty by sixty foot barge with a twenty-four ton capacity , thus allowing for the transport of heavier vehicles including the grain trucks which would soon be the commercial foundation for the service.
Owned and operated for over thirty years by Allen Blackmore, who upgraded the barge and tug on a regular basis, "The Judy F" became a landmark for community and area residents, transporting vacationers during the summer months and grain trucks during harvest season. Continuing the relationship with the Canton Chamber of Commerce, the ferry was often used for recreational and sight-seeing purposes.
Upon Blackmore's retirement in 1979, the ferry service was owned and operated by several people until John and Paul Baalman purchased the business on March 18, 1992.
On December 5, 1992, while transporting grain trucks to the Ursa Farmers Cooperative, the ferry met with a tragic accident when the barge capsized, claiming the lives of Paul Baalman and Olen Fretwell, a local farmer. The day was cold and the deck of the barge was very slick. There was a very strong wind and the barge begin to spin out of control. This action shifted the load of grain trucks capsizing the barge and the loss of life.
After the tragic accident in 1992, the Port Authority through the Missouri Department of Transportation, applied for federal funds to purchase a new barge and towboat. With participation by state and federal legislators from Missouri and Illinois as well as financial support from the Ursa Farmers Cooperative and Adams County, Illinois the funds were allotted and on March 24, 1995 the port Authority became the owner of the longest continually operating ferry service on the Mississippi River. The new unit was subsequently leased to the Baalman family. The towboat was later christened the "Paul B" in memory of Paul Baalman who lost his life in this accident.
Once again the Canton Ferry is plying the trade it began a century ago providing a valuable transportation link between Missouri and Illinois and serving as one of the most visible landmarks on the Might Old Mississippi River.
During the Civil War, the countryside suffered from raids and recruiting sorties by Confederate and Union troops. In the period after the war, Canton recovered its economic standing with the coming of the St. Louis, Keokuk, and Northwestern R.R. (now Burlington) in 1871.
Culver-Stockton College, founded by the Disciples of Christ here, 1853, as Christian University, is famed for having the first college charter in Missouri to assure equal education to men and women. The present name, adopted, 1917, honors Mary E. Culver and R.H. Stockton, school benefactors.
Canton is the first town founded in the fertile Mississippi River county organized in 1833 and named for Meriwether Lewis. Settled by Southern pioneers as early as 1819, Lewis County lies in territory ceded the U.S. by Iowa, Sac, and Fox tribes, 1824.
Westward is Montcello, the seat of Lewis County, laid out on the North Fabius, 1833. La Grange, south on the Mississippi, early river port and meat packing town, was laid out in April, 1830, near the mouth of the Wyaconda where Godfrey Le Seur is said to have had a trading post by 1795. Baptist Hannibal-La Grange College was chartered there as La Grange College, 1859.
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