North Carolina Inland River Ferries - The Elwell Ferry

The Elwell Ferry crosses the Cape Fear River near Kelly, NC.

Tucked away in Southeastern Bladen County, one of the last remaining inland river ferries crosses a sleepy Cape Fear River.  For over a century, the Elwell Ferry has shuttled local residents and farmers across the river between the tiny crossroad towns of Kelly and Carvers.  Every day it even carries a curious traveler or two, who may have heard stories of the little ferry and wanted to see it for themselves.

The Elwell Ferry began operation in 1905.  Two brothers, John R. and Walter H. Russ, began the service which crosses the same point to this day.  At the time, the Elwell Ferry was one of numerous river ferries in the state and the country operated by local residents to connect local farms and villages to each other.  As time marched on, nearly all of the Elwell's sister ferries would be replaced by bridges or abandoned altogether.  Many consider the Elwell Ferry a living relic of early transportation within North Carolina.

Today, the ferry is owned and operated by the NC Department of Transportation.  The ferry holds a maximum of two passenger vehicles or about four tons in total weight capacity.  It runs from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the Spring and Summer and from sunrise to sunset in the Winter and Fall.  On average, anywhere from 60 to 80 vehicles per day utilize Elwell Ferry.  There is no ferry service on Christmas Day.

From Fayetteville or Elizabethtown:  Follow NC 87 South approximately 14 miles past the end of the Elizabethtown Bypass.  Turn left onto Elwell Ferry Road, the ferry is about one and a half miles straight ahead.

From Wilmington: Follow US 74/76 to NC 87 North.  Continue on NC 87 North about 16 miles.  Turn Right onto Elwell Ferry Road, the ferry is about one and a half miles straight ahead.

If the ferry is not on your side of the river when you arrive, just beep your horn and the operator will come and pick you up.  The total ferry crossing is about five minutes.  Elwell Ferry Road connects to NC 53 on the east side of the Cape Fear.  At NC 53, turn left to head back towards Elizabethtown and Fayetteville.  Turn Right to return towards Wilmington.

Additional Photos:
The Elwell Ferry crossing the Cape Fear empty to pick up passengers.  Looking back at the landing along the west bank of the Cape Fear. Looking downstream on the Cape Fear.
Passengers are free to get out and enjoy the view. An empty ferry sits ready to go on the east bank of the Cape Fear. A closer look at the Elwell Ferry.

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    Sources & Links:

  • Cape Fear River Ferries ---Wilmington Today
  • NC 87 Day Trips ---Wilmington Today
  • Elwell Ferry by Dan Hackman ---Topsail Magazine
  • Elwell Ferry by Jim Hanchett ---Wilmington Star News
  • Elizabethtown - White Lake Chamber of Commerce



    Page Created: September 17, 2006
    Last Updated: September 17, 2006

    © 2006 Adam Prince
    All photos taken by the webmaster: May 26, 2006.

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