Wittenberg – Grand Tower Ferry

I’m working on a big project on Wittenberg, a once thriving German community in Perry County that couldn’t stand up to the 1973 and 1993 floods. When I was there before this year’s flood, it was down to two buildings and three residents.

Here are photos I took of the Tower Rock Ferry shortly after it started operating in October of 1966. That’s my 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon in the photo. (I point that out because there’s a group of folks who collect them and search out every picture they can find of them.)

Ferries have served since 1870s

Mary Beth Mueller Dillon’s book on Wittenberg says that The Wittenberg Ferry & Reality, a large ferry, operated between Grand Tower and Wittenberg, a “favorite crossing place for covered wagons.”

Ferry stories in The Missourian

  • Mar. 2, 1927 – The Wittenberg Ferry is now running again for the season. Your business is appreciated. Otto Lungwitz, Owner.
  • Mar. 17, 1932 – The Wittenberg ferry has not been in operation because of ice. Drivers of several cars have been disappointed. The ferry will start service again as soon as the ice is gone.
  • Mar. 23, 1932 – The Wittenberg ferry was busy Sunday, with no ice in the river. Ray Murry has bought a 1911 model Buick, said to the oldest car in good running condition in Perry County.
  • Mar. 31, 1932 – The Wittenberg ferry is busy transporting corn trucks, as large supplies are coming from Illinois to Missouri.

Inmans start Grand Tower Ferry

A newspaper story Oct. 7, 1966, said that dual ribbon cutting ceremonies in Missouri and Illinois will mark the start of ferry service between Wittenberg and Grand Tower, Ill. Mrs. Charles Inman, who with her husband, will officially christen the pusher boat, Miss June. The barge and push boat, which can haul six cars at a time, was built in St. Louis.

The Miss June will succeed Miss Bertha, which served from Oct. 1922, to May 1942, under the management of Otto L. “Nick” Lungwitz. The ferry was discontinued when it became too small to accommodate modern vehicles. The journey will take motorists under the 2,150-foot Texas-Illinois pipeline bridge, the longest such bridge in the world.

Crosses under Texas-Illinois pipeline

Sally Wright Brown wrote a story Nov. 24, 1974, about June Inman being the second licensed woman towboat operator in the United States. Her family has been in the ferry business since 1895. Her husband had been piloting the boat until he took a job at the East Perry Lumber Co. in Altenburg.

The Miss June was attached to the middle of the barge with a hinge. When the ferry reached the far shore, the push boat would pivot on the hinge to set up for the return trip.

“Floating section of a highway”

Someone described ferries as being a  “floating section of a highway.”

This “floating highway” saved drivers a 70-mile round trip drive to Chester, Ill., or Cape to take a bridge across the Mississippi River. When the service started, fare for a car was $1.50, later raised to $2.50. A tractor trailer cost $3.50.

I don’t have the exact date when the ferry ceased running. The Dillon book said that the Inmans ran it from 1966 to 1976.

26 Replies to “Wittenberg – Grand Tower Ferry”

  1. In December 1806 Cape Girardeau’s General Quarter Session of the Peace awarded a license to Joseph Waller for the operation of a ferry 12 miles north of Cape. It may have been in operation during the Spanish/French period prior to 1804 under a concession by Lorimer.

    Waller sold the horse treadmill boat and 640 acres of land in Feb. 1817 to a Mr. Green. Today the site is part of Trail of Tears State Park, reachable via Green’s Ferry Road.

  2. The 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon was a classic. I wish I had that baby back in high school, 1976-78.

  3. I remember when the ferry ran during the l930’s when Nick Lungwitz as we knew him. In fact my father James E. King was deck hand on the ferry under Nick, I rode this ferry alot during this period. Thanks for putting this article on. It brings back alot of memories.

  4. Miss June went to work at Proctor and Gamble. She was one sweet lady! Everyone that worked with June thought the world of her. She was very talented and a hard worker.

      1. My husband and I along with our three young children traveling from Colorado to Virginia in a VW bus crossed the Mississippi River somewhere on a small ferry in 1971. I don’t remember the location, but we all have fond memories of that trip. I have a couple of photos and wonder whether you can identify the ferry if I send copies of the photos to you? My email: bbickerton@comcast.net
        Thank you.
        Barbara Bickerton

  5. My great-grandparents raised their family of 11 children in Grand Tower. Last name YOW. I visited there several years ago while working on family history. There is some very interesting history regarding this town. It was a growing place when my great grandfather arrived there to work in the silica mine just across the river.

  6. I like ferries. I love the Tower Rock area. You know you have a slightly mean side to send me the link to this article when the ferry is long gone, don’t you. Yes, of course you do. Payback for me talking about the water level going down right now, isn’t it?

  7. That is our family that ran the ferry over the years between 1966 and 1974. I am the oldest of 3 sons and worked lots of weekends and summers on the ferry as a deckhand. Sundays were reserved for Price Wilson of Grand Tower. He had brothers Woody and Cy who lived in Wittenberg and another brother “Shorty” who lived in Grand Tower. Sundays were always busy with folks crossing to have fried chicken in Grand Tower but busier when Jacob Day or East Perry Fair were being held. Those days we ran non stop from 9AM until we closed at 7PM for a couple of hours to go to the fair ourselves. We would reopen the ferry about 1030PM and bring folks back across the river. East Perry Lumber Company saved lots of time and moved tons of logs on the ferry over those years. In hindsight, it was a pretty good living.

    1. Thanks for filling in the family history. Had your ferry not started running when it did, I wouldn’t have been sent up to Perry County to do the side stories on Wittenberg, Altenburg and Frohna that I’m following up to this day.

  8. For those who knew my Mom, June, you may not realize that she was the first woman to receive a Coast Guard Pilot License for Passenger Vessels in St. Louis. The St. Louis Globe Democrat and Southeast Missourian ran articles about the event. She loved working at P&G but also missed running the ferry for different reasons. I should also point out that my Aunt, Mom’s sister-in-law, “Teddi” Inman was also the first woman to receive a Towboat License from the Coast Guard. I’d say that is pretty unique for that to happen in one family.

  9. To fill in more of the story, our family sold the ferry to Capt. Don Lovejoy of Grand Tower in 1970. He ran the ferry when he would be home from his rotation as a towboat captain. Capt. John Cook of Grand Tower was also one of the pilots on the ferry. East Perry Lumber Company bought the ferry from Capt Lovejoy in early 1973 just before the flood. My Dad, Charles, was working for East Perry as their pilot on the M/V Bettye and then the M/V Lil’ Joe while Mom was running the ferry part time after she received her license.

  10. My grandparent, Walter and Mildred Hamlin, live and built a home on the same road that we took to get to the ferry. I’m sure all of the old timers on this string knew them. In “downtown” Whittenburg there was a tavern run by Gertrude and Red. The original tavern was demolished and a new one was built just down the road in a metal building. Spent many afternoons in there sipping Coca Cola with my brother Bob. Fond memories of that tiny little town on the Mississippi. I hope to someday drive in and see if the old house is still there. dhambone62@gmail.com

  11. David,
    I knew your grandparents and went to high school with “Wally” their son. He was a year behind me if I recall. I remember all the boy scouts would come down for camp outs and jamborees at the campground that your grandparents ran. My Dad did evening excursions once in a while on the ferry and I remember one that my Dad did for one of the boy scout groups. We went down by Tower Rock, then to Grand Tower Island and turned around to pass by Grand Tower on the Illinois side, up to the power plant across from Wittenberg and then back to the landing. The flood of 1973 wiped out the original taverns in Wittenberg. Actually, Wally, my brothers and I would have to take a jon boat from the bluff across to the blacktop by Gertie’s tavern to catch the bus in the morning for about a month in April that year. During that flood, my Dad had some small pontoon barges along with Woody Wilson, Ted Wilson, and Red Grayson which were used to get the pews, altar and other furnishings out of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wittenberg before the flood waters got in door. There is an article that ran in the papers around Christmas time in 1980 with my brother, Dave and his family, Rick Scholl and his family, and Bud Clark in a picture. There is also a book which was published in 2006 “Wittenberg, MO: In Touch With The Past” written by Mary Beth Mueller Dixon. Thanks so much for your post.

  12. My aunt and uncle – Jim and Marge Seed – lived in Grand Tower when I was a small boy (~1974-~1980?) and I recall Uncle Jim taking me down to ride the ferry across the river. The ferry captain even let me sit in the captain’s seat and steer! It’s a great memory for me. These pictures are fantastic. Thank you!

    1. Good morning, should you see this.
      I am a Perry Co. resident and have a huge infatuation with the river, Tower Rock, Seventy -Six. Would like to know where I could purchase your book. Thank you.

  13. theresasessions@gmail.com
    Wondering if anyone knows who ran the ferry around the turn of the century – 1900? Word of mouth family history says my grandfather’s grandfather, william woods, had a boarding house, cafe and ferry on the mississippi river in perry county in the early 1900s. At one time I saw a reference to Wood’s Ferry but cannot find it now. My grandfather drew a picture of Tower Rock and told a family member that is where he grew up. His father was a German immigrant, William August Sticher, a stone mason and surveyor who disappeared on a surveying trip never to be heard of again. He came to St. Louis and Whittenburg with his father John H. Sticher and four brothers, Herman, Dora, Henry and Fred.
    He and William Woods’s daughter, Katie, had at least five and maybe seven children – Minnie, Sophie, Robert, William, Edward and Fred. I believe Fred ran a concrete business in Perry County.
    I would love any information anyone could provide. Thank you.

  14. there was a story about “THE THREE PILOTS” (Captains Isaiah Sellers, Samuel Donalds and Joseph Dryden buying land on the Missouri side of Tower Rock. Anyone know anything about this or the pilots?

    Priscilla Davis

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