Oxford Bellevue Ferry Celebrates 341 Years

Oxford Bellevue Ferry Opens in Time for Oxford Day

The Oxford Bellevue Ferry will launch its 341st year of operation at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 27, when it opens for the 2024 season and the town’s Oxford Day celebration.

The day marks a milestone for Captains Judy and Tom Bixler. The couple begins their 23nd year as the owners of the country’s oldest privately owned ferry even as they begin the search for their successors.

“The ferry is a part of the very fabric of our lives, and we want the next owners to feel that way too,” says Capt. Judy. “It may take some time to find the right buyer, and we’re okay with that. It’s important to us that the proud heritage of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry continues.”

History of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry

In its 340-year history, the ferry has only changed hands a few times. “Our tenure is only a chapter in the history of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry, and we feel blessed to have been the keeper of this special piece of American history all these years,” Capt. Judy continues.

Of course, the ferryboat itself is not 341 years old. When the ferry route first connected Oxford and Bellevue in 1683, the boat was outfitted with sails and propelled by human scullers. Next came a wooden scow, towed by a coal-fired steam tug. Eventually a larger scow was pushed by a gasoline-powered tug. 

The first self-propelled ferryboat was built in Oxford in 1931. Modernization continued as a wooden six-car ferry was brought to the area in 1974. Today’s ferry was built in 1980 and is named Talbot. It measures 65 feet in length and will hold about nine full-size cars. The record is 18 Mini Coopers, loaded for a photo op in 2007.

Last year, Talbot was completely renovated, with sandblasting and repainting from stem to stern. “The current ferry is built of steel,” says Capt. Tom. “She has two engines, one on either end. This keeps us from having to turn the boat around every time we cross the Tred Avon River.”

The Oxford Bellevue Ferry – A Crown Jewel of Talbot County

The ferry provides transportation service for vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, and passengers between the incorporated town of Oxford and the historic working watermen’s community of Bellevue. It offers both an entrance into Oxford by water when coming from Bellevue, and it’s a shortcut for those headed to St. Michaels and Tilghman Island.

These days, the beloved ferry is as much a tourist attraction as it is a form of transportation. It is strategically positioned on the Chesapeake County All-American Road, a national scenic byway, and is on a bike route that has been named one of the top in the country.

“The ferry is certainly an asset for us,” says Cassandra Vanhooser, director of economic development and tourism for Talbot County. “No visit to Talbot County is complete without a visit to Oxford and ride on the ferry. Riding the ferry is a cherished right of passage for locals and visitors alike.”

Capt. Judy is no stranger to tourism. She serves as chairman of both Maryland’s Tourism Development Board and Talbot County’s Tourism Board. She says the ferry is often referred to as the “Icon of Talbot County,” and that’s an image she and her husband have worked hard to preserve.

“People often ask us if we get bored going back and forth across the river, but no two trips are ever the same,” Capt. Judy explains. “Things are always changing. The wildlife we encounter, the watermen’s boats we dance with, the passengers we welcome aboard vary with each trip —it’s never boring.”

Searching for new owners is bittersweet, the Bixlers confess, but they are committed to seeing the history continue.

“We do not plan to leave the area, and we will be here to assist in a smooth transition,” Capt. Judy stresses. “Until then, we will carry on, and we invite you to join us to create your very own ‘Ferry Tale’ in Oxford.”

Blessing of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry

In a time-honored tradition, Rev. Kevin Cross will bless the ferry on Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m. at the Oxford Ferry Dock. Festivities continue on Oxford Day, scheduled for Saturday, April 27, with a hometown parade, 10K run, dog show, children’s Olympics, and band and choral concerts in the park.

Oxford Bellevue Ferry Blessing of the Ferry

The ferry operates daily through October, then the first two weekends in November. It shuttles back and forth across the Tred Avon River daily, beginning at 9 a.m. and makes its last trip before sunset. Call 410-745-9023 for the exact times of the final trip each day.
For more information, visit OxfordFerry.com.

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