This article contains more information taken from John Jeffries’ Master’s Thesis titled An Early History Of Junction City, Kansas: The First Generation. This is some of what John wrote.
Perhaps the earliest ferry on the Republican River, was located at the crossing of the Fort Riley-Junction City Road. This road crossed the river a few hundred yards above the junction. George A. Root concluded ‘The name of the man who inaugurated this service was, perhaps, Captain Asaph Allen, who in 1858 and 1859, operated a ferry between the fort and Junction City.’
An early reference to the above ferry is found in the diary of Christian L. Long, who was accompanying a party of emigrants on their journey westward. On April 28, 1859, he records having crossed on this ferry, stating that the river was about ninety feet wide at that point, and ferry charges were $1.00 per team. Horace Greeley also mentioned crossing on this ferry in May 1859, when he reached Junction City on his journey westward. He described it as a rope ferry and stated that several families and a large herd of cattle had been taken across. (Heather, our Curator, has a display of a rope ferry in Gallery 1 at the Museum).
Charles Francis Clarke, who had purchased a bridge over the Kansas River in 1860 and lost the same in a spring flood of 1861, started a ferry at the Fort Riley-Junction City Road crossing on the Republican River.
After Captain Clarke organized his company of cavalry at Fort Riley in September 1861, his wife, Mary Clarke, continued to operate the ferry. Upon Captain Clarke’s death at Memphis in 1863, she continued to operate the ferry until the construction of the bridge by the Republican River Bridge Company in 1867. Mrs. Clarke experienced several difficulties in keeping the ferry boat in operation.
During the winters when the river was frozen, the ferry could not be used, and traffic crossed on the ice. During the winter of 1863-64, the ferry was idle for almost four months while the river was dormant with ice thirty inches thick. During the summer months, the water level in the river was often low enough to permit fording and at the same time too low for the use of the ferry boat. In addition to the natural disturbances, the Widow Clarke was plagued by troubles with the military officials and the desire of Junction City men to obtain what they thought to be the lucrative privileges of the ferry boat trade. In a letter to her mother-in-law, dated June 28, 1865, Mary gave vent to her feelings about the matter: ‘The Junction people grudges me the ferry and wants to get it away from me under any circumstances that they can invent. Don’t wonder at this for it is self with every person here don’t care for their neighbors or how they may get along.’
The bridge construction by the Republican River Bridge Company was unsatisfactory. It was usually in a poor state of repair, so bad in many cases that travelers preferred to ford the river or use the railroad bridge, and finally it fell into the river. Litigation developed over the responsibility for the bridge and since the Republican River Bridge Company had dissolved, attempts to fix the responsibility were rather useless. Finally, in 1883, the legislature of Kansas ordered the reconstruction of the bridge across the Republican River.