In 2003, Hurricane Isabel destroyed a wooden wall on the Virginia landing. Ed Brown, my father and the previous owner of White’s Ferry, replaced it with a concrete retaining wall, believing it was within the public right-of-way.

Rockland Farm disputed the wall placement. A lawsuit was brought by Rockland Farm, and in 2020 a judge ruled there was no public landing in Virginia (despite the 1871 condemnation which formalized a ferry landing on the Virginia shore). The judge ruled that the retaining wall was on their property and awarded them $102,175, which all agreed was the cost to tear it down. This judgement was paid in December of 2020.

For over 200 hundred years, the Ferry had operated at that site since it was considered public land. The only agreement between White’s Ferry and Rockland Farm happened in 1952 and was for a pole and anchor in the nearby pasture to support an overhead cable.

That changed in 2020 with the judgement. Rockland Farm’s owners Peter Brown and his sister Libby Devlin sent us a revocable license agreement demanding $18,000 a month for the use of the landing. At that time, the boat operation was not generating that amount per month. Mrs. Devlin has reported that the Ferry was netting $750,000 a year, however the 75-year-old White’s Ferry corporation’s earnings came from sources in addition to the operation of the ferry, 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. In fact, a majority of White’s Ferry Inc.’s income came from sources other than the boat. The judge understood this distinction in his opinion.

White’s Ferry Inc. had reserves invested to replace the boat when needed, income from the Store, rental of the picnic area, boat rentals and income from outside investments. When we decided to close, our daily commuters, which were the bulk of our weekday business, were paying $2.62 per trip. Peter Brown and Libby Devlin wanted $1.00 per car (38% of the gross), for these customers.

In a conversation with Peter Brown, he explained why the Maryland Shore should receive 1/3, Virginia shore receive 1/3, and the operator 1/3 of the income. Based on that formula, the operator would not be able to maintain operation costs and would be forced to go bankrupt.

Rockland Farm also offered to purchase the Ferry and its operations. In January 2021, Libby Devlin met with us and reviewed the books on the boat operation and saw that we could not afford what they were asking. We countered the informal offer they made but never heard back.

Instead, we offered Rockland Farm $400,000 for an easement on approximately 7,000 square feet of land and were told it was worth $2,000,000. In addition, they wanted us to sign a license agreement that we received from their attorneys, seven days before closing the ferry operation, stating that the agreement could be cancelled at any time with a 30-day notice. It made no sense to replace the cable and reopen after the flood with the possibility of being closed down after a month.

Now they are trying to get that large amount from Chuck Kuhn, the new owner. My understanding is that he offered more than we did for the easement, but the boat’s business history doesn’t support Rockland Farm’s extraordinary request. The only reason Rockland Farm wants the Ferry re-opened is to have a perpetual annuity to support the Farm from someone else’s labor. It is not for the public, as they claim.

If they want the operation to re-open, they should come forward with a reasonable proposal for an easement so everyone can move forward. No one can operate the Ferry as on ongoing business based on Rockland’s current demands.

Herbert O. Brown

Previous owner, White’s Ferry

(2) comments

Mencken's View

This is nonsense. Mr. Brown's father never believed the landing was in the public right of way. He knew that the decades-old, $5/year agreement referred to the landing and the use of it. That's why he approached Rockland's owners about replacing the wall. They did not refuse but stated that in order to do so the original agreement would need to be renegotiated. Brown ignored that and replaced the wall (cutting down mature trees, etc.). When Rockland discovered it, they tried to get an agreement with Mr. Brown, who again and again refused--refused to negotiate, refused mediation after the suit was filed. Even after Brown lost the suit, Rockland did not enforce the ruling, still allowing Brown some grace to accept the result and reach an agreement. He refused. As far as the ferry's finances--it was primarily a cash business, and the owners (the official ferry study acknowledges) did not count the number of trips. That would have allowed the tax man to know with greater certainty the true income of the ferry operations. Final question: Kuhn says he has purchased the ferry business. If so, why hasn't its sale been recorded, almost a year later?

jke

The owners of Rockland Farm proposed several options for ending the dispute, including with a monthly or annual transit fee per vehicle with a long-term lease; having the vehicle count maintained by a neutral third party; or negotiating a transit fee independent of vehicle count.

The farm’s entreaties, however, were rejected. Devlin said the owners of the farm asked for 50 cents for every vehicle that transits the farm’s landing along the Potomac River as part of a deal to reopen White’s Ferry.

Devlin said Rockland Farm made a similar offer to give Loudoun and/or Montgomery counties in August, but the county has not decided on any option it’s received.

Devlin said Rockland also offered to purchase the ferry at the price Chuck Kuhn paid for it.

She said she was surprised when the Kuhns entered into contract to take ownership of the ferry in February after the farm’s owners were in negotiations to purchase the ferry for $3 million.

The terms of the sale were not disclosed, according to a previous Times-Mirror report.

As for Rockland’s offer, she believed the 50-cent request to be reasonable given her understanding of the operation’s earnings.

She said a stream of income for the landing would help support Rockland’s operations.

“Rockland has been willing to come to the table with White’s Ferry’s previous owners and new owners from day one,” Devlin said.

“I continue to believe a volume-based fee of fifty-cents per vehicle is a very reasonable price for the use of Rockland’s landing,” she said. “Even at significant risk to Rockland, I have offered to enter into binding arbitration whereby a neutral third party would choose the fairest solution. I continue to hope that White’s Ferry will join Rockland to arrive at a private solution and re-open this historic gem that has crossed the Potomac for as long any of us can remember.”

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for reading!

Please purchase a subscription to read our premium content. If you have a subscription, please log in or sign up for an account on our website to continue.