The Ferries and Bridges Linking Freeport and Point Washington

Note: The following article was compiled from numerous articles published over the years. Please leave a comment or send an email to if you can correct or clarify this brief history. Thank you!

A ferry was established in 1921 that linked Point Washington with the northern communities of Walton County. The ferry dock in Point Washington was at the end of what is now County Road 395 at Tucker Bayou, and the Freeport dock at Jolly Bay handled the traffic to and from the north. The ferry usually crossed the Choctawhatchee Bay at least twice a day, and the trip took about an hour and cost a dollar.

The ferry boat, The Lark, was built from the remains of the paddle-wheeler, the Charles E. Cessna, which had once brought passengers from Pensacola to the old town of Santa Rosa. The ferry could hold two vehicles and was owned and operated by William Henry “Willie” Wesley, Jr., the third child of W. H. Wesley, Sr., and his wife, Katie Strickland Wesley, the original owners of the house now known as “Eden” in Point Washington.

The ferry made six trips daily between Point Washington and Freeport, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m. Willie Wesley was the principal operator, and his brother Arthur assisted when he was not teaching at the Freeport School.

In the early morning hours of June 3, 1936, there was a terrible accident about two miles north of Freeport. Cecil Stinson, the postmaster of DeFuniak Springs, was driving one car with a passenger named Hayes Crawford. They were taking election ballots from Portland to DeFuniak Springs. Willie Wesley, the ferry operator, was in his car along with his brother Arthur and Ed Ward of Freeport, both of whom worked for the State Highway Department. Arthur Wesley was driving on their return from delivering ballots to DeFuniak Springs. There was a thick fog hampering visibility, and both cars were speeding. Stinson crossed over the middle line and hit the Wesley car head-on. All but Hayes Crawford were killed instantly.

In 1936, after Willie Wesley’s death, the state provided a free ferry that could carry as many as eleven cars across the bay. The job of running the Save Time was given to Captain Joe Shelley, and Royal Albert “Roy” Burlison, who was married to Wesley’s sister Mabel, also worked on it. This vessel had a motor and a cabin with bathroom at the back. The ferry made six trips daily, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m. Wesley’s youngest sister, Marie Wesley Swinford, once told of moonlight dances on the ferry.

In 1941, a wooden draw bridge replaced the ferry. Capt. Joe Shelley then became the first tender of the draw bridge with Roy Burlison working the 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. shift. Over a span of 43 years, four Shelley family members were bridge tenders, starting with Capt. Joe and his wife Dora. Their son R. C. became the tender in 1948 along with his wife Pat. The tenders were provided with a house nearby on the southeast side of the bay. The bridge would be opened when a tugboat blew its horn to signal a barge was coming. Even with that system, the bridge was struck by barges several times over the years.

A tug pulling five barges of fertilizer struck the bridge on February 21, 1974, knocking out 400 feet of the bridge and bending some of the steel girders three feet. It also sent the tender’s shack into the bay. The man who had just relieved Pat Shelley from her shift, W. C. McCarter, died. Repairs took thirteen months, during which there was no bridge or car ferry. A passenger ferry, which was actually a deep-sea fishing boat, was brought over from St. Andrew’s Bay. It ran six days a week, making eight trips between 6:15 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. The state Department of Transportation provided two 33 passenger buses to transport people to their jobs in Destin and South Walton from the south dock and return them in the late afternoon. Two school buses provided transportation to the Freeport schools from the north dock, and two others on the south end took the children home in the afternoon, saving them a 50 mile detour each way.

In March 1986, a string of four barges rammed the bridge at 3 p.m. No one was hurt, but the tender’s cabin fell on top of one of the barges, the bridge was severely damaged, and the draw span was stuck in the “up” position.

That bridge was replaced with a high, concrete and steel bridge named after Clyde B. Wells, Circuit Judge of Walton County. Construction started in November 1988 with a projected cost of $24 million and a completion date of late 1990.

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