The “Bristol”

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Steamboat ferries operated out of Bristol Ferry Landing

The Bristol was a steam powered ferry that transported automobiles.

from 1905 until the Mount Hope Bridge opened in 1929.  The Bristol was a double ender type ferry that carried automobiles.

Bristol Ferry Landing

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The Bristol Ferry Landing area was a transportation hub for Aquidneck Island travelers. (Image - G. Schmidt)

The Bristol Ferry area of Portsmouth was a transportation hub even in colonial times. It was a train station, a ferry landing, a loading dock for animals headed to market, a stage coach stop, a trolley car stop and a landing place for steam boats. To accommodate travelers, the village area at Bristol Ferry included places to eat and spend the night.

The Old Howland Ferry


In colonial times the main roads in Portsmouth led to the ferry landings.  What we call East Main Road was known as the Path to Howland’s Ferry.  Its location was close to where the remains of Stone Bridge are today. This location is one of the narrowest points on the Sakonnet River between Tiverton and Portsmouth. The ferry may date back to 1640.  It was also known as Anthony’s Ferry and Pocasset Ferry. Howland’s Ferry played an important part during the Battle of Rhode Island. American forces used the location to pour onto Aquidneck Island to fight the British who occupied the island. When they were forced to retreat, many of the American forces used that route to make their escape. Howland Ferry was less used once the Bristol Ferry was established.

Howland Ferry area

This ferry, the West Side, was used in the Howland Ferry area when the Stone Bridge was not operating. (Image G. Schmidt)

Bristol Ferry Town Common

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Blaskewitz Map of Bristol Ferry Area

During Revolutionary times there was an active community around the Bristol Ferry landing. Blaskowitz chart.

The way to Bristol Ferry became a bustling community with taverns and shops. By the old ferry landing is the Town Commons.  On March 12, 1714, the common is listed in a list of “Rhodes, Ways and Lanes in Portsmouth.” This document is available in town archives. Regarding the Bristol Ferry Common, it states that,

“… the piece of  land near Abel Trip house adjoining to the ferry against Bristol, is left for the conveniency (sic) of the Public in importing  and transporting of Cattel (sic), Sheep, Horses, wood, rails, etc. and is bounded on the bank against the salt water 12 rods, and against the land of John Earl & John Earl _____ twelve rods and against the land of  John Pool, John Tripp and Abel Tripp, that is, from the Earl ____ his corner to Thomas Borden’s Northeast corner aforesaid, is twenty rods and from Borden’s down to the lege (sic) of the bank next to the salt water is nineteen rods.”

Bristol Ferry

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Tripp, Borden and Gifford Ferries

The Bristol arrives at the ferry landing. (Image: G. Schmidt collection)

West Main Road in colonial times was known as the Path to Bristol Ferry.  Howland Ferry to Tiverton came first in 1640, once the ferry to Bristol was established, it became the primary way off the island to the mainland and Providence.  The ferries on the Portsmouth side were known as the Tripp’s Borden’s and Gifford’s ferries after the owners.  Early records show John Tripp was paid for ferrying the colony’s general assembly across to Bristol.  John’s son Abiel built a wharf around 1680.  In 1698 John Borden had a ferry operation alongside the Tripp ferry.  In 1766 Thomas Tripp sold his wharf and land to Joseph Borden (John’s brother) and after that the ferry was generally known as the Bristol Ferry.  In 1774  Joseph Borden sold the land, ferry house and ferry privileges to David Gifford. All ferries were discontinued during the British occupation of Aquidneck Island during the Revolutionary War.    Gifford’s sons, Gideon and Jeremiah, bought even more land to form “Ferry Farm” to care for the horses that were used to power the new type of ferries.  Horseboats were not all that practical at the Portsmouth ferry, so that ended in 1845.

Fogland Ferry

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Cook Ferry

The Cook family began to ferry their animals to Fogland to graze during the day.

Fogland Ferry (or Cooks Ferry) began when Thomas Cook bought grazing rights to Fogland across the river in what is now Tiverton. Cook lands were located in the Glen area. Thomas Cook’s home was where the Glen Manor House is today. Later on the family seems to have established a public ferry. In 1762 Joseph Cook sold 31 acres of land with wharves, buildings and ferry rights to Christopher Cadman. When he died in 1787, the Cadman Ferry was left to Gideon Cadman, Christopher’s son.