Old photo of ferry

Ferry History: Setting the Stage

The Events and Circumstances That Lead to the Creation of the Cape May - Lewes Ferry

1964 Was Perfect Timing to Start CMLF . . .

Why? Just a few years earlier, events happening to the south in Virginia proved to be serendipitous. From the early 1930s to 1954, a private corporation managed scheduled car ferry service between Virginia's Eastern Shore and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. By act of the Virginia General Assembly, the Chesapeake Bay Ferry District and Commission were created and authorized to acquire the private ferry corporation and improve existing ferry service.

In 1956, Virginia authorized its Ferry Commission to explore the construction of a fixed crossing of the Chesapeake to replace the ferry system. Following studies and engineering, $200 million in revenue bonds were sold to private investors with future tolls pledged to pay them off. Contracts were awarded and on April 16, 1964, just 42 months after construction began, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened.

In Delaware, news of plans for construction of the new Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel project promptly raised hopes that some of the fleet of ferry vessels that were used to cross the Chesapeake would become available for use on the Delaware Bay after the bridge-tunnel became operational.

The timing of events was perfect for advocates of the ferry service across the Delaware Bay between Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware in 1964.

When results of the updated ferry study arrived, DRBA Commissioners immediately resolved in April 1963 to establish the Cape May-Lewes Ferry at earliest possible date. At the same time, DRBA agreed to build a twin Delaware Memorial Bridge parallel with the successful first bridge and also expressed interest in the Chesapeake ferries for possible use in creating CMLF.

By June 11, 1963, a $106 million financing plan was put together to combine the estimated $12.7 million cost of the new ferry system and the much needed second span to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. DRBA also formally agreed to inspect the Chesapeake ferries.

Negotiations were successful with the Virginians. Promptly in July 1963, DRBA approved the purchase of four of the seven ferry vessels that were still being used by the Chesapeake Bay and Tunnel District for $3.3 million in April 1964.

The four vessels, the SS (Steam Ship) Pocahontas, SS Princess Anne, SS DelMarVa, and MV (Motor Vessel) Virginia Beach would be rechristened by DRBA as the SS Delaware, SS New Jersey, SS Cape May and MV Cape Henlopen. 

The Cape May-Lewes Ferry was going to become a reality.