Skip to Content

Broadway Ferry and Waterfront, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, v1991.106.15. Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1991.106, Brooklyn Historical Society.

This guide is intended to aid researchers looking for material related to the history of ferry service within and around Brooklyn at Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS). This research guide is by no means exhaustive, but is intended as a starting point for those interested in exploring materials related to ferries at Brooklyn Historical Society. New materials in the Othmer Library are continuously being cataloged, digitized, described, so searching the catalogs should always be used for up-to-date information using subject headings and search terms.

This resource guide is divided into three sections: A. Archival Materials, B. Published Sources, and C. Visual Materials, D. Maps. Within each section, materials are organized by date, earliest to latest.

Archival Materials

Primary source materials in this section may be viewed in the library reading room by appointment. To make an appointment, interested users can email [email protected] This list of materials is not intended to be comprehensive. Interested users should also search BHS’s finding aids portal for additional materials.

Conkling family papers, ca. 1782-1798
Call number: ARC.284
0.25 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Collection includes one 1782 Brooklyn-Manhattan ferry pass granting David Conkling permission to make a two way journey. Shows that permission to board the ferry was granted by the Jamaica Police.

Records relating to the Catherine Street Ferry, 1801
Call number: 1991.019
0.01 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Small collection that includes six proposals and one letter of recommendation to the Common Council of Brooklyn to begin the operation of the Catherine Street Ferry.

Catherine and Main Street Ferry Company records, 1812-1845
Call number: 1977.051
0.42 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Included in the records are account books, bills for construction and repair, inspection certificates, and receipt books for wages paid to employees.

Brooklyn Waterfront and Ferries, 1816-1890 (Series 6) in the Pierrepont family papers
Call number: ARC. 263, Series 6, boxes 4, 5, 6
1.1 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

This series documents the Union Ferry Company through correspondence, legal agreements, leases, corporate formation documents, and court filings. A good deal of it documents negotiations between the ferry company, and the cities of New York and Brooklyn regarding property and franchise rights. The Fulton Ferry, South Ferry and Hamilton Avenue Ferry are well represented in the series, along with reference to Manhattan locations, such as the Wall Street Ferry. The Atlantic Dock Company and Williamsburgh Ferry Company are also represented.

Box 4 folder 9 concerns the 1852 ferry pilot’s strike. Box 4 folder 11 contains information relating to the Union Ferry Company’s use of electric lights (1883) in an experiment to replace gas.

Material printed by the Supreme Court of New York regarding ferry rights (1820s-1880s) is present in box 5 and 6. Also included is an incomplete handwritten manuscript of H.E. Pierrepont’s Historical Sketch of the Fulton Ferry and its Associated Ferries, along with correspondence, notes and other materials compiled in connection with the history. Also see Series 3 for maps and related material.

Brooklyn ferries legal records, 1822-1878
Call number: 1986.046
0.42 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Included in the records are leases, laws, and published court proceedings relating to several Brooklyn ferry operations. The leases are of the Fulton Street, South Street, and Hamilton Avenue ferries.

New-York and Brooklyn Steam Ferry Boat Company toll books, 1824-1837
Call number:  1977.030
0.16 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains three toll books of the New-York and Brooklyn Steam Ferry Boat Company dating from 1825 to 1826, 1828 to 1829, and 1836 to 1837. The toll books record the weekly ferry toll received on the Brooklyn side, and list daily receipts signed by the ferry master upon turning in the weekly total.

Brooklyn roads records, 1823-1825
Call number: 1977.337
0.75 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Fulton Ferry folder contains an 1837 Ferry Company petition to put in a straight fence on their property on Fulton Ferry, to protect their property and give the public a more convenient place to wait for the boats.

Unnamed ferry line subscribers agreement, 1833
Call number: 1974.251
0.01 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

List of subscribers (23 total) to an unnamed ferry line, to be opened south of the Fulton Ferry, likely South Ferry, which opened in 1836.

Catherine and Main Street Ferry broadside, 1844 in the Teunis G. Bergen and Bergen family collection
Call number: ARC.006, box 18, folder 26
0.1 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Advertisement for reduced fare on the Catherine and Main Street Ferry, called Bownes’ Ferry. Includes detailed fee schedule for foot passengers, passengers with horses, wagons, and a variety of different kinds of freight or goods.

Brooklyn Ferry Company indenture, 1859
Call number: 1978.195
0.08 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Purchasing agreement from the Long Island Ferry Company to the Brooklyn Ferry Company for rights of land, boats, and licenses, etc.

Harry A. Meyer scrapbooks, 1888-1934
Call number: 1977.193
2.5 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

Box 1 includes a scrapbook commemorating the 1925 launch of the municipal ferry boat  Henry A. Meyer. Other scrapbooks have material related to Meyer’s work with the New York City Docks Department, including Jamaica Bay and the Staten Island Ferry.

69th Street Brooklyn Ferry Corporation rate schedule notices, 1966
Call number: 1978.134
0.05 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains one rate schedule, and one announcement for new rates, for the Brooklyn 69th Street Ferry Corporation, operating between 69th Street Brooklyn, in Bay Ridge, and Staten Island.

Water Street Associates collection on the Fulton Ferry Landing proposal, 1971
Call number: 1990.027
0.5 linear feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains reproductions of architectural renderings, elevations, and plans created by the firm Water Street Associates for its proposal for the renewal of the Fulton Ferry Landing neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Materials date from 1971.

Transportation–ferries (Series 9), n.d. in Brooklyn Ephemera collection
Call number: ARC.272, Series 9, folders 8 and 9
Link to finding aid.

Included in folder 8: Envelope of Union Ferry tickets for foot passenger, cart; Fulton and South St Ferry tickets; Hamilton Ave ferry tickets; Pamphlet advertising ferry to statue of liberty, leaving from Bay Ridge; Brooklyn-Staten Island ferry (69th street ferry) Summer 1964 schedule; Schedule for the steamer Armenia, from Brooklyn to Newburgh (upstate); New York and New Jersey Steam boat ferry co. 1 cent ticket; Formal invitation to view the Atlantic Dock Company docks via Hamilton Ave ferry, 1846; Atlantic Transport Line, SS Minneapolis program of sports (field day activities), 1910; Whitestone Ferry tickets (horse and wagon, man and horse), 1824; Future planning document for Fulton Ferry Landing Maritime Museum, 1984. Included in folder 9: Union Ferry tickets and ephemera; envelopes of Union Ferry tickets; Union Ferry stock certificates listing managers names.

Select Bibliography

BHS’s extensive printed materials in the main collection that can assist in research on ferries, from contemporary 18th and 19th century materials, to comprehensive 21st century secondary sources. This short section is intended as a starting point for ferry research in the reading room. Interested users should also search in our catalog BobCat under subject headings.  Call numbers are in the LOC format. Call numbers preceded by “Main Collection” are available to users in the open stacks in the library reading room. To access materials with call numbers preceded by “Closed Stacks” or “Special Collections,” users will need to show the title and call number to library staff, who will then be able to retrieve the volumes. No appointment is necessary to view materials in this section.

Brouwer, Norman J. “Cross from Shore to Shore”: Whitman’s Brooklyn Ferry (1992).
Main Collection: CT275.W55 B48 1992
Article from a 1992 issue if Seaport Magazine. Gives detailed history of the Fulton Ferry as it relates to Walt Whitman’s biography.

Copp, Phillip. The Demise of the Fulton Ferry-York Street-Hudson Avenue Elevated (SI: 1993)
Main Collection: HE4491.B583 F85 1993
History of the retreat of transit options from the Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO area after the construction of the Manhattan bridge, through deindustrialization.

Cudahy, Brian J. How we got to Coney Island: the development of mass transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County. (Fordham University Press, 2002).
Main Collection: HE4491.N65 C8 2002
The chapter “Iron Piers and Steamboats” includes a detailed history of ferry service to Coney Island from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Cudahy, Brian. Over and Back: The History of Ferryboats in New York Harbor. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990).
Main Collection; HE5784.N5 C84 1990
Most complete history of ferry lines in New York City. Includes a good deal of photographs, especially of individual ferries. Also includes a good deal of maps.

DeVoe, Thomas F. Reminiscences of “Old Brooklyn”: Read before the Long Island Historical Society, May 16, 1867 (LIHS: 1867).
Main collection: F129.B7 D48P 1867
Sentimental description of Brooklyn in the early 19th century, including information about the Fulton Ferry.

Everdell, William R. and Malcolm MacKay. Rowboats to Rapid Transit: A History of Brooklyn Heights. (New York: Brooklyn Heights Association, 1973).
Main Collection; F129.B7 E84 1973.
Detailed history of transportation across the East River, as it relates to the history of Brooklyn Heights. A good portion is devoted to an overview of intricate ferry histories.

Hoffman, Deborah. The Revitalization of Fulton Ferry: A Prototype for Waterfront Redevelopment in New York City (New York, 1979).
Main Collection: F129.B7 H64 1979

Pierrepont, Henry Evelyn. Historical Sketch of the Fulton Ferry, and its Associated Ferries (Brooklyn: Eagle Job and Book Printing Department, 1879).
Main Collection: F127.K5 P54 1879

The Ferry Question: A Statement of the Origin and Progress of the Present Controversy between Brooklyn and New York on the subject of leasing the ferries between the two cities (Brooklyn: I. Van Anden’s Print, Eagle Building, 1851)
Closed Stacks: HE5784.N58 F47 1851
Pamphlet describing the problems with the 1844-1845 public auction of the Fulton and South Ferry leases, and ensuing controversy of the tax that the city of New York imposed on ferry trips into the city from Brooklyn.

Visual Materials

Many of BHS’s visual materials, including photographs, paintings, and works on paper, are digitized and viewable in the PastPerfect database in the reading room or PastPerfect online. Users can search PastPerfect for keywords “ferry” and “ferries” or specific names of ferry companies or even ships. Users can also search by accession number, after finding it in the catalog. This is a short list of a few visual items relating to Brooklyn ferries not yet digitized or cataloged in PastPerfect as of Spring 2017. They can be accessed in the reading room by making an appointment, as with archival collections in Section A.

Hooker’s Pocket Plan of New York City, 1826
Call number: M-1826.Fl
Small engraving of lower Manhattan with hand-colored ward lines, showing ferry lines to Brooklyn and New Jersey, some with ferry line lengths in yards. Shows numbered and names piers.

“The Ferry at Brooklyn,” 1839, in Graphic Materials (Series 6) in the Lefferts family papers.
Call number: ARC.145, Box OS7
One early etching of an early steam-powered ferry crossing the East River, with views of other vessels. Possibly a copy of an earlier work.

Panorama of New York, Brooklyn, and Vicinity viewbook, 1879.
Call number: V1986.38
0.03 linear feet
Published by the Wittemann Brothers, this viewbook includes two panoramic views: one from the top of the Brooklyn-side Brooklyn Bridge tower facing the Manhattan side, and one from the top of the Manhattan-side tower facing the Brooklyn side. Most of the imagery shows activities of New York Harbor, including some ferries.

The Brooklyn of the Future, 1903.
Call number: B C-1903.Fl.Folio
Black and white map printed by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle showing solutions to the borough’s transit problems. Shows 20 ferry routes and how they will connect with arterial roads, railroads, subways, and elevated lines.

Birds eye view of New York Harbor, 1907.
Call number: NYC-1907 .Fl
Detailed lithographic aerial of New York Harbor showing Newark, Staten Island, Manhattan, and Brooklyn waterfronts, with associated ferry and railroad routes.


This section includes maps that are related to ferry routes. Again, materials listed in this section are not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to show a diverse range of material that represents ferries in the collection. In fact, most maps of waterfront areas from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries show ferry routes. For additional maps related to the Brooklyn ferries, users can search BobCat under the subject heading “Ferries–New York (State)–New York   Maps.” Searching by ferry-related keyword and limiting the resource type to “Maps” is also a comprehensive way to begin.

The Ferry, Peter Ross, n.d.
Call number: B C-[18–?]a.Fl
Small reproduction of an early 19th century map of the Fulton Ferry area, showing locations of the Ferry Tavern, the Rapalye homestead, and the Old Stone Tavern. Shows farmland and dock locations.

Map of the City of New York including Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken &c, 1829.
Call number: NYC-1829.Fl
Black and white map of lower Manhattan, north Brooklyn waterfront, Jersey City, and Hoboken, showing primary ferry routes, although they are unlabelled (represented with lines labelled “ferry”).

Montague Street Ferry, 1854
Call number: Pierrepont-1854.Fl
Small hand-drawn and colored diagram of the Montague Street Ferry slip, including the ferry house, and the land belonging to H.B. Pierrepont and John H. Prentice. Gives dimensions of streets, as well as the ferry slip itself. Also shows bulkhead lines.

Map of the consolidated City of Brooklyn : comprising the City of Brooklyn, City of Williamsburgh and Town of Bushwick, Kings County, Long Island, 1854
Call number: B A-1854a.Fl
Black and white lithographic map of Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfront areas, showing 11 ferry lines, as well as ward boundaries and railroad lines.

Topographical map of New York City, County and vicinity showing the original high water lines, permanent pier lines, and the present wharves & piers, 1855.
Hand colored highly detailed map of Manhattan, showing Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey waterfronts. Shows numbered piers, sounding depths, and present ferry lines. Gives length of ferry lines in yards.

Map of New York and vicinity, 1863.
Call number: NYC-1863.Fl
Hand colored engraved map of Manhattan, showing Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey waterfronts. Shows present ferry lines and Includes numbered piers and sounding depths.

Map of the City of Brooklyn, 1869.
Call number: B A-1869c.Fl
Color map of Brooklyn waterfront showing 8 ferry routes across the East River, in addition to train lines, ward boundaries, and school districts.

[Ferry slips, landings, and piers at Fulton St.], ca. 1873
Call number: Pierrepont-[1873?].Fl
Small hand-drawn and colored map of Fulton St. ferry area, showing the slips’ extensions from 1860 to 1873. Shows loading and unloading areas.

Hagstrom’s New York Subways, 1974.
NYC-1974 .Fl
Map of the 5 boroughs showing IRT, BMT, and IND subway lines, as well as St. George Staten Island Ferry line, the ferry to Breezy point, Governors Island Ferry, and the Statue of Liberty Ferry.  No East River ferries are represented here.


This research guide was prepared by Allison Chomet in Spring 2017. It was prepared with input from BHS’s Public History Department (Julie Golia and Katherine Lasdow), who extensively researched this topic in preparation for the exhibit Waterfront, which can be seen at BHS DUMBO. It also relies on the research compiled for  BHS’s 2014 exhibition Full Steam Ahead, which explored ferry history.