WITH THE INCORPORATION of the Town of Cape Carteret in June 1959 and the continuing construction of vacation beach cottages in the Town of Emerald Isle (incorporated in July 1957), access to the western end of Bogue Banks became a priority.
Enter William Britton (W.B.) McLean. He was the ringleader of the investment group that bought the property on the island to form Emerald Isle … and he bought the land across from Emerald Isle on the mainland side of Bogue Banks to create Cape Carteret.
McLean was quick to rationalize that a ferry service was needed from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle, as a short-cut, so motorists coming from upstate didn’t have to drive around their elbow into Morehead City and go across to Atlantic Beach, then back-track, geographically speaking, to get to Emerald Isle. Officials of the State of North Carolina hemmed and hawed whenever McLean inquired.
Paxon McLean Holz made the comment that her father W.B. “was never known for his patience, so, he began dredging a channel across Bogue Sound and purchased two surplus car ferries in Virginia.” They were never used, however, as the state reluctantly agreed to pony up and take responsibility for the transportation.
The State of North Carolina began offering free ferry service from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle in 1961, using three ferries that were built in 1957 by Barbour Boat Works, Inc., of New Bern. The shipyard on the Trent River was founded by Herbert W. Barbour in 1933 and closed in 2001.
These ferries were named the Governor Cherry, the Sandy Graham and the Emmett Winslow.
R. Gregg Cherry was North Carolina’s governor from 1945-49. Graham served twice as chairman of the State Highway Commission, first in Gov. Cherry’s administration then again under Gov. William B. Umstead from 1953-57. Winslow was a highway commission member during the Umstead administration.
The ferries were used for about 10 years, running on the hour in the winter and on the half-hour during the summer.
The ferries were no longer needed when the B. Cameron Langston Bridge on NC Route 58 was built and opened in 1971. (Langston was a highway commissioner who had campaigned hard to get the bridge built. He died in 1966, and the bridge was named for him, in memory of his efforts.)
The Sandy Graham has lived a long and productive life as a working ferry, mirroring accomplishments of the Graham family.
Alexander Hawkins “Sandy” Graham grew up in Hillsborough and graduated from the UNCarolina-Chapel Hill in 1912. He earned a law degree at Harvard University.
The Graham family has deep roots in North Carolina. Sandy Graham’s father was John Washington Graham, who served five terms as a state senator and was chairman of the state tax commission.
His grandfather, William Alexander Graham, was a US Senator from North Carolina from 1840-43 and North Carolina’s governor from 1845-49. He served as US Secretary of the Navy from 1850-52, under President Millard Fillmore.
William Alexander Graham was the Whig party nominee for vice president of the United States in 1852, on the ticket with presidential candidate Gen. Winfield Scott. The Democrat party ticket of Franklin Pierce and William King won the election. Ironically, King was born in Sampson County and he and Graham attended UNC-CH at the same time and were members of rival campus societies.
(King died of tuberculosis after 45 days in office as vice president. President Pierce served the remainder of his term with the vice presidency remaining vacant.)
Sandy Graham’s political career began in 1919, when he was named chairman of the Orange County Democratic party (a post he held until 1947). He was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1921 and became Speaker of the House in 1929. He was elected North Carolina lieutenant governor, serving from 1933-37.
Including his terms on the highway commission, Graham’s career in public service to the State of North Carolina spanned more than 38 years.
The Sandy Graham was working in Virginia in 1998, when it was purchased by the Canadian government to begin serving the native Canadian population who are members of the Beausoleil First Nation (BFN), which has a reservation on Christian Island in the southern tip of Georgian Bay in Ontario (east of Lake Huron).
The 800 year-round residents on Christian Island are descendants of Chippewa people who were first placed there in 1856.
The Sandy Graham has been the lifeline from Christian Island to Cedar Point on the mainland, capable of transporting 28 vehicles. It’s a about a 30-minute ride each way.
“Our people have to cross to get access to all the goods and services as well as hospitals and medical appointments,” said former Chief Roland Monague.
After nearly 60 years of operation, the Sandy Graham has experienced mechanical breakdowns and “metal deterioration,” caused by battering waves, wind and ice in Georgian Bay, according to Transport Canada. Monague said that’s another way of saying the “hull is rusting.” The vessel needs extensive repairs that could take it out of service for up to four years. It may be cost prohibitive.
People can use the Indian Maiden ferry, but it only provides passenger service for a maximum of 70 people; no vehicles. To hand carry one’s groceries is a hassle, Monague said. “The ferry crew puts all the bags in a pile, so groceries are getting mixed up and are going missing,” he said.
The new BFN Chief Mary McCue-King said, “We are going to be at a standstill pretty soon if we don’t come up with a solution pretty fast.”
A new replacement ferry, which would be able to break through the ice, will cost $23 million plus $10 million in upgrades to the dock, she said.
BFN has agreed to come up with $10 million. That still leaves a considerable gap for the province and the national government to cover.
Whatever is the ultimate fate of the Sandy Graham, she has lived a long and productive life on the water, having journeyed from Emerald Isle to Christian Island.