Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Episode 457 (1-28-19): Catching the Ferry at the Potomac River

Click to listen to episode (4:25).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 1-25-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 28, 2019.

MUSIC – ~16 sec

This week, that excerpt of “Ferry Song,” by Bob Gramann of Fredericksburg, Va., opens an episode about the widespread and diverse use of ferry boats.   To bring the topic home, from the Canadian setting of Mr. Gramann’s song to the Commonwealth of Virginia, have a listen for about 30 seconds to the following ferry sounds, and see if you know what Maryland-owned river bordering northern Virginia has one remaining commercial ferry operation.

SOUNDS - ~30 sec

If you guessed the Potomac River, you’re right!  You heard sounds from a January 11, 2019, Potomac crossing on White’s Ferry, which travels between Montgomery County, Maryland and Loudoun County, Virginia, about four miles north of Leesburg.  A public ferry has been in operation at that location since at least 1817, and it’s the one remaining of some 100 ferries that operated historically on the Potomac.

While ferries are no longer a widespread feature on that river, they remain vital means of water transport elsewhere in Virginia, in many other parts of the United States, and around the world.  Two other Virginia examples include the privately operated ferry to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, and the state-operated Jamestown-Scotland ferry across the James River between Jamestown and Surry County.  Some other states with significant ferry systems are Alaska, California, Maine, New York, North Carolina, and Washington. Worldwide, the Web site currently includes 7,700 ferry routes in 140 coastal countries.  As that Web states, throughout history people have been using ferries “to cross borders, transport goods, and connect with other people.”

Back at White's Ferry on the Potomac River, cars, bikes, and pedestrians can spend about three to five minutes—one-way—participating in that long transportation tradition.

Thanks to Bob Gramann for permission to use this week’s music.  We close with one more ferry sound, which is rather musical in its own right.  Here are about 15 seconds of a foghorn from a ferry in Washington State, crossing Puget Sound between Seattle and Bainbridge, in a recording from about 1996.  Thanks to contributor Gray Gaffer for providing this sound for public use.

SOUND - ~15 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Ferry Song,” from the 2000 album “That Squirrel Song,” is copyright by Bob Gramann, used with permission.  Bob Gramann’s Web site is

The ferry foghorn sound was recorded on the ferry M.V. Spokane by user Gray Gaffer, posted 1/17/10, and made available for public use by, online at, under the Creative Commons 0 (Universal - Public Domain) License.  For more information on Creative Commons licenses, please see; information on the public domain license specifically is online at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Scenes from White’s Ferry onshore in Montgomery County, Md., and on the Potomac River, January 11, 2019.

Entrance sign on the Maryland shore.

Toll-information sign on the Maryland shore, with the Potomac River, ferry, and Virginia shore (Loudoun County) in background.

View of the Potomac River looking upstream from the ferry crossing from Maryland (right) to Virginia (left).

View of the ferry's approach to Loudoun County, Virginia, with the ferry cable to the right.

Sign with historical information on the Maryland shore.


Alaska Marine Highway System, online at

St. John Barned-Smith, White’s Ferry’s swift trips across the Potomac have long history, Washington Post, 11/1/12.

Cape May [N.J.]/Lewes [Del.] Ferry, online at

Casco Bay Lines [Portland, Me.], online at, online at

Historical Marker Database, “White’s Ferry,” online at

Monique LaBorde, Real Steam Whistles Return To Ferries On Cape Cod, National Public Radio (NPR)/”All Things Considered,” 1/1/19, 2 min./47 sec. audio.

Lake Champlain [Vt.] Ferries, online at, “The History of Loudoun County, Virginia/White’s Ferry—The last working ferry on the Potomac,” online at

S.M. Lutfir Kabir et al., “Solar powered ferry boat for the rural area of Bangladesh,” 2016 International Conference on Advances in Electrical, Electronic and Systems Engineering (ICAEES), Nov. 14-16, 2016, in Putrajaya, Malaysia; available online at (subscription may be required).

Maine State Ferry Service, online at

North Carolina Ferry System, online at

Town of Poolesville, Md., “White’s Ferry,” online at

Washington State Ferries, online at

WikiVoyage, “Ferries in the United States,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Overall Importance of Water” and “Recreation” subject categories.

Following are links to some other episodes on boats.
Episode 111, 5/21/12 and Episode 370, 5/29/17 – on Safe Boating Week.
Episode 131, 10/8/12 – on dock safety.
Episode 159, 4/29/13 – on smart buoys in the Chesapeake Bay.
Episode 270, 6/15/15 – on Operation Dry Water and boating under the influence (BUI).


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 History Theme
1.2 – Virginia history and life in present-day Virginia.

Grades K-3 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural, human, and capital resources.
3.8 – how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.4 – types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.