Con Phister operated the wharf boat and the ferry in Maysville for most of his life. He was born in Maysville, went to school at the Maysville Seminary, and loved nothing better as a boy to go down to the river and let the wakes of the steamers wash over his legs. He spent eight years as a clerk and supervisor in the Maysville Cotton Mill of January & Wood, but the river called, and he went to work on the packets. He clerked for the Potomac, the Telegraph, the Morning Mail, the Clifton, thePittsburgh, the Eldorado, and the Louis B. Sherley. He eventually saved some money, and bought the Maysville wharf boat. It was built in Manchester, Ohio in 1878, was 120 by 26, had two gangplanks to shore, and a two story office. He would run the wharf for the next 34 years. He is described as a large, portly and jovial person, with terrible handwriting, but with excellent penmanship with numbers.
His main trade were hogsheads of tobacco and beef cattle, and he had a special pen built near the wharf to hold the cattle. Herding cattle into the pen one night, the herders let a couple of cows get away, and the cows ventured onto the trestle that the C. & O. had built across Limestone Creek. Several cows’ legs went down between the ties and soon there was pandemonium. Con Phister called the local C. &. O. Station, and explained there were cows stuck on the trestle on the main line. A single stem locomotive soon appeared, and one by one, the cows were drug off the trestle from a rope attached to the top of the locomotive’s tender. A crowd, no doubt enjoying the whole debacle, had gathered. Phister asked if there were butchers present, and two men volunteered. The beef was killed and butchered on the wharf, and boats stopping at the wharf for the next several days could get a real deal on beef.
The Gretna Green was the ferry to Aberdeen when Phister bought his wharf boat, but she was old and tired. Shortly thereafter, William Linton began operating a second ferry, the Frank S. Owens, in the same trade. The two cut each others prices to a point at which neither was making money, so Linton took his boat and headed for Bellaire, Ohio. Captain J. C. Power, who operated the Gretna Green, sold out to Phister. The Gretna Green was pretty much a wreck of a boat by that time. She was in bad shape before The Frank S. Owens came, and the price wars had prevented any repairs. So Phister bought her and the ferry rights, but on condition the current owners continue running her until Phister could get a new ferry in place.
That new ferry would be the Laurance. The Laurance was built in Madison, Indiana, in 1891 from the shipyard of David Barmore, and named for Phister’s six-year-old son. Probably the best ferry to run this route, she was 88 by 26, and captained by William Clephane, who carried three battle scars from his days in the Civil War, piloting the J. W. Cheeseman on the Tennessee River. The Laurance would serve for the next 35 years, and was only out of service once, in 1917, the get a new hull in Cincinnati.
Con Phister, plagues with rheumatism, lost his wharfboat in the ice of 1917-18. He sold the Laurance to Capt. Gordon Greene and Charles Stadler, who kept her running until the Simon Kenton Bridge opened in 1926. Phister died in Maysville, at age 75, in November, 1922. He didn’t live to see the bridge open.
This is edited and abbreviated from an article that originally appeared in the magazine S & D Reflector in December, 1971, and is written by Capt. Fred Way.