Maryland officials ‘begging’ White’s Ferry, land owner to reopen service nearly 3 years after abrupt closing

White’s Ferry stopped running on Dec. 28, 2020 after a stalemate between then-ferry owner Herb Brown and Libby Devlin, owner of Rockland Farm, which is the landing site in Virginia.(WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Almost three years after the historic White’s Ferry stopped running between Montgomery County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia, lawmakers are calling for an agreement between the ferry and the landing site.

On Monday, the Transportation and Environment Committee of the Montgomery County Council attempted to break the impasse.

White’s Ferry stopped running on Dec. 28, 2020 after a stalemate between then-ferry owner Herb Brown and Libby Devlin, owner of Rockland Farm, the site of the landing site in Virginia. The two had failed to reach an agreement to reopen the service. The ferry was established in 1786.

Chuck Kuhn and his wife, Stacy, bought the ferry in February 2021, with hopes of resuming service. But in a March statement, Kuhn said a combined $1.1 million offer from Kuhn and Montgomery and Loudoun counties to buy 1.4 acres on the Virginia side of the river was rejected by Rockland Farm.

Devlin has insisted upon a 50-cent per car fee, to allow the ferry’s vehicle traffic — approximately 600 to 800 vehicles per day, according to the county staff report — to use the farm’s land.

“We need to get the ferry open,” said Council and committee member Marilyn Balcombe. “It’s not just a tourist attraction that you can take every couple of years, this quaint ride across the Potomac. It’s a vital, vital transportation infrastructure that we’ve got to get open.”

Maryland Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo said the deadlock is affecting families whose schedules have been upended by needing to spend extra time driving, rather than taking a ferry across the Potomac River.

“I’m begging these two parties to get past their issues,” Fraser-Hidalgo said. “I don’t understand why this community in Poolesville and in Loudoun County are being held hostage by two private parties that just can’t seem to find a way to compromise.”

Kuhn told the county panel, “We will do anything we can do to help get this ferry going,” adding that he will donate the ferry “in its entirety to (Montgomery) county.

“We will donate the Maryland shoreline, if you will donate the Virginia shoreline — we will walk away without a dime, if you stop obstructing the operation of this ferry,” Kuhn told Devlin.

Toward the end of the meeting, Devlin was asked if she had been moved by any of the options discussed to reopen the ferry.

“I could look at that, and see if we could come up with an offer to purchase the whole thing,” she said. “I will certainly speak to my family about whether there is a lump-sum payment that will make it worth us giving up our historic land.”

Kuhn clarified, “I don’t mean their family farm. I mean the small patch of shoreline that this ferry has operated on, for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the owner of White’s Ferry at the time it stopped running. The story has been corrected and updated. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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