The Ferry at Bonners Ferry
Fifty cents is what it would cost you to cross the Kootenai River on Mr. Bonner’s original ferryboat when it was first established by an act of the Idaho Territorial Legislature back in December 1864.
That’s if you are traveling by yourself. If you happened to be crossing with your horse, or with pack animals, or with sheep or hogs, be prepared to pay additional fares.
Advance the calendar 150 years, and that brings us to today, December 2014. The Boundary County Museum marked the Sesquicentennial Anniversary (that’s the 150 year anniversary) of the beginning of Mr. Edward L. Bonner’s ferryboat business, a business which led to a village growing up around the ferry site, and that village eventually becoming the city of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
Cal Russell, of the Boundary County Museum Board of Directors, officiated at the celebration, and shared with the assembled congregation the story of how Mr. Bonner and his two business partners saw the need for a ferryboat across the river, and worked to get the ferry operational. Permission to establish the ferry and set up a river crossing required an act of the Legislature, and Mr. Russell read aloud the 1864 Legislative Act authorizing the ferry to be established.
When the ferry was first up and running, the charge for person to cross the river was fifty cents, which the Museum historical staff calculated to be equivalent to around $7.50 today. Let us think about that as we breeze easily across the Kootenai River today in a matter of seconds in a comfortable automobile, sometimes multiple times in a day.
The old days of the ferryboat came alive as the Museum staff performed for the audience a short skit, whose plot centered around various travelers boarding the ferry with various animals in tow. The skit was set in modern times, as if the ferry were still operating today, the travelers being required to pay their fares in today’s dollars.
Mr. Bonner’s ferry operated for 51 years, being sold to the County along the way, until a wagon bridge was built across the river.
At the Museum’s celebration, Bonners Ferry Mayor David Anderson read a Mayoral Proclamation, signed by officials from the City, from Boundary County, and from the Kootenai Tribe, proclaiming December 22, 2014 as the Sesquicentennial Day for the ferry at Bonners Ferry.
Following the reading of the proclamation, Mr. Russell of the Museum Board led all in attendance in a sparkling cider toast to the ferry, and to those who established it, and also to those who came and settled and made their lives in this area, those long 150 years ago.
With that toast, the 150 year birthday cake, specially made to celebrate the ferry and featuring a picture of the ferryboat on top, was cut and served to all who were present.
Thanks to the staff at the Boundary County Museum for preparing and presenting a delightful program about our area’s history and heritage.