About the St. Johns River Ferry:
Ferry service for the St. John's River crossing at Mayport has been in operation since 1874, and has provided a vital transportation link connecting the north and south banks of the St. John's River along SR A1A since 1948.
Manadnock (1948) Buccaneer (1957)
LaFitte (1974) Ribault (2012)
The history of the St. Johns River Ferry dates back to 1874 when farmers, fishermen, merchants and travelers would use a then private flat boat ferry to make the river crossing. As Northeast Florida grew in prominence and more people began to learn about the beauty of our area, the need for a more permanent solution became apparent. Community, city, and state leaders came together and in 1948 the State of Florida officially started the St. Johns River Ferry Service as a transportation link connecting the Ft. George Community on the north bank and the Mayport community on the south bank of the St. John's River along the newly renamed SR A1A.
The ferry we have today, the Jean Ribault, was built in 1996 and carries approximately 40 vehicles, with up to 206 passengers. The convenience and necessity of the ferry is easy to explain. The ferry ride is about one mile along State Road A1A and takes about 15 minutes. It’s a peaceful ride, a beautiful ride – you have time to get out of your car, see the river, and take a few photos before you get to the other landing. The alternative is to get in your car, drive through the city, get on Interstate 295, go over the Dames Point Bridge, get off Interstate 295, and drive back into the city. This route is about 28 miles long, can take over 45 minutes to an hour with traffic, and you never get to experience the beauty of the St. Johns River.
Despite being such a vital link of transportation, the ferry has had its struggles. In years past, the State of Florida decided that budget cuts would include the ferry and the state decided to end the St. Johns River Ferry Service. A group of concerned citizens who were part of the North Jacksonville Community Association, including Dot Mathias, began a fight to keep the ferry operating. The leadership in the city of Jacksonville responded to the community and the city then took ownership of the ferry to keep it in operation. The Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry, Inc., was formed out of this initial effort. The group promotes the ferry and helps with projects that maintain the ferry landings as a beautiful venue to not only cross the river, but also to experience the beauty of the river and all that both communities have to offer.
Sadly, the saga of the ferry doesn’t end there. Soon budget cuts at the city level led to calls for ending the ferry service again, and again the community rallied, and again the leadership responded. This time the Jacksonville Port Authority stepped to the plate and took over ownership of the ferry service, but this was a short-lived effort and soon again the ferry was in peril of falling victim to cuts in government services. This time then City Council President Bill Gulliford, assembled a group of civic leaders and concerned citizens as the Ferry Task Force. Their efforts, led by Elaine Brown as chair, began to rally the community to once again find a way to keep the ferry operating. This lead to the city once again taking ownership of the ferry and, in an effort to prevent history from repeating itself, the creation of the St. Johns River Ferry Commission, led by Council Member John Crescimbeni, which now provides oversight on ferry operations. This arrangement has successfully led to the identification of long term funding for ferry operations, as well as funding for needed capital improvements at the ferry landings.
In order to combine their efforts and mutual mission, the Ferry Task Force and The Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry officially merged into one organization to continue the mission of both groups to promote the ferry in the community. That is our purpose – that is our focus.
We are very proud of our successful efforts to have the Ferry as part of the East Coast Greenway in Florida. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile long shared-use trail system linking 25 major cities along the eastern seaboard between Calais, Maine and Key West, Florida. This green travel corridor provides cyclists, walkers, and other muscle-powered modes of transportation with a low-impact way to explore the eastern seaboard. The Greenway enters Florida at Fernandina Beach then continues along SR A1A, crossing the St. Johns River on the ferry and continuing its 584 mile journey down to Key West, the southernmost point. If you look at the bridge of the ferry, right there in the middle, you will see the sign designating it as part of this historic route.
The ferry is so much more than a link across the river. In a city that focuses on eco-tourism and related businesses, The St. Johns River Ferry Service links the marshes and coastal parks from Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine and further South. Many kayakers, canoers, bird-watchers, and photographers want to follow this naturalist trail. Eco-tourism businesses depend upon the ferry servicing their clients to cut out the extra driving distance or drive time - especially with morning and afternoon traffic congestion, so they can stay close to and enjoy the natural beauty.
Bicyclists, particularly long distance cyclists, are perhaps one of the more colorful and identifiable users of the St. Johns River Ferry Service. In particular, riders from the North Florida Bicycle Club can be found on the ferry most Saturday and Sunday mornings during the Spring, Summer and Fall - sometimes dozens at a time. For bicyclists, the St. Johns River Ferry Service is the most important link in the A1A Coastal Highway route. Unlike drivers, there is no alternate North/South route for bicyclists - even if they were willing to go around. Bicyclists are not allowed on the Dames Point Bridge. They are not allowed on the Mathews Bridge, the Hart Bridge, the Fuller Warren Bridge or the Buckman Bridge. The only two bridges in the whole City that bicyclists can use to cross the St. Johns River are the Main Street and Acosta Bridges. The ferry is their only viable option. With over 6,000 bicyclists and pedestrians each year, it is plan to see how important the ferry is for this community.
Of the many groups in the community, the Bird Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary (B.E.A.K.S.) located on Big Talbot Island uses the St. Johns River Ferry Service as a means of reaching injured birds in the Beaches communities. Likewise, volunteers from the Beaches use the St. Johns River Ferry Service as the most direct route to the facility. Beach Residents who rescue or capture an injured bird on their own know, or are often advised, that they can deliver the bird in a container to the Ferry Landing where it will be picked up and transported to the B.E.A.K.S. facility for care and rehabilitation. Without the ferry, it is both difficult and costly for B.E.A.K.S. to rescue injured birds in the Beaches area in a timely manner. U.S Navy personnel as well as the many vendors servicing Naval Station Mayport all rely upon the ferry for their day to day business. So it is easy to how the St. Johns River Ferry is woven into the fabric of the community.
You can add your page to the story of the St. Johns River Ferry. Become a member of the Friends, join our Ambassador volunteer program and learn how you can help keep the ferry serving the community. Our Ambassadors ride the ferry every weekend and most holidays, to be an extra smiling face, offer local insight, and generally provide helpful information to residents, as well as visitors riding the ferry. For many weekend riders it’s their first time and nothing makes it more special than an “I Rode the Ferry!” sticker and a photograph aboard the ferry. Download the ferry app on your iPhone or Android device, to get up to date information on the ferry schedule and departure times. Follow us on twitter @JaxFerryFriends and like our page on Facebook.
Remember, the ferry is always here for you, and we want you to be here for the ferry. It’s so much more than a ride across the river. Ride the ferry and see the passion of a community.