Mackeys Community
One of the first pioneers to reach the south shore of the Albemarle Sound was a man by the name of Kendrick. The only thing history tells us of this gentleman is that the creek, which today is called Mackeys Creek, was named for him. Most maps still show this historical stream as Kendrick Creek.

The community we know today as Mackeys had its beginning in the very early 1700s as Lee’s Point. Lee’s Point acquired its name as a result of its use as a transfer point for lumber sawed at the water-powered saw in what we know today in Roper.

Thomas Lee and later his son Stephen Lee, owners and operators of Lee’s Mill, would ship their sawed timber by small barge down Kendrick Creek to Albemarle Sound where it would be transferred to larger vessels for shipment to Edenton and other more distant settlements, some as far away as the British West Indies.

In the early 1730s Thomas Bell, a resident of Edenton, established a scheduled ferry run from Edenton to South Shore. In 1735, Thomas Bell sold this ferry to his nephew William Mackey. William expanded the ferry service to include four South Shore landings: Lee’s Point, Thorp’s Landing, Colonel West’s Landing and Campbell’s Landing. I can find no historical reference which establishes the location of Thorp’s, West’s or Campbell’s Landing; however, we must assume that they were on one of the three streams which empty into the Albemarle from the south since a sailing ship could not reach a landing built in the shallow waters along the sound shore.

Thomas Bell named William Mackey, his nephew, heir to his property, which he was to inherit at the death of Bell’s wife. Shortly after Bell’s death, William moved from Edenton to the South Shore to help his uncle’s widow manage the farmland be would eventually own, much of which was located on the east bank of Kendrick Creek.

William Mackey died in 1765 and the settlement that developed in and around Lee’s Point was named Mackey’s Ferry in his honor.

Crossing the Albemarle Sound by way of Mackey’s Ferry in the 18th century usually took the better part of a day. This sail-powered vessel was totally dependent upon suitable weather and favorable winds. There were times when inclement weather would delay the crossing for 24 hours or more. It was not until the early 19th century and the coming of steam power that a dependable ferry schedule could maintained.

The ferry established by William Mackey in 1735 served the North and South Shore Settlements for 203 years. Its end came in 1938 with the completion of the highway bridge across Albemarle Sound, six miles east of the old ferry lane.

It was in the 1760s that serious commercial fishing became the principal economic interest in Mackeys Ferry. Numerous fish houses and processing facilities were built on both the east and west banks of Kendrick Creek. In the spring, all efforts were turned to this activity and hundreds of people were employed.

Mackeys Ferry continued to prosper throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as a ferry terminal and commercial fishing center; however, it did not begin to reach its full potential until the coming of Norfolk-Southern Railroad in 1881. Norfolk-Southern had extended its line from Norfolk, Va. to Elizabeth City on to Edenton and across Albemarle Sound by barges carrying two cars at a time to Mackeys Ferry and other points south. These barges were towed by tugboats and required considerable time to move an entire train from shore to shore. This slow, cumbersome method of moving the train continued for approximately 18 years.

In 1899, Norfolk-Southern replaced these two-car barges with the twin side-wheelers iron train ferry John W. Garrett. The Garrett was a magnificent vessel and by far the largest and longest to ever enter Kendrick Creek. It had a 41-foot beam and a length of 351 feet with a pilot house both fore and aft. This double pilot house meant that the Garrett never had to turn around; the pilot simply moved from one end of the boat to the other.

Passengers making long journeys by rail welcomed this one and three quarter hour crossing aboard the Garrett as a much needed respite. It gave them ample time to stretch their legs, refresh themselves and to dine at the on-board restaurant.

This much improved rail link between Edenton and Mackeys Ferry made it possible for Norfolk-Southern to place through passenger trains in service between Norfolk and Belhaven and later New Bern and Raleigh.

At the turn of the19th century, the railroad provided the ladies in and around Mackeys Ferry with their favorite entertainment. It seems that on Sunday afternoons after church, weather permitting, the ladies would have their husbands drive them in their horse and buggies to the rail depot where they would wait for the arrival of the passenger train so that they might see the very latest in hat-styles. We have come a long way; you will have to decide the direction.

This period in the history of the South Shore was also a time of extensive ferry boat travel. This was prior to the development of good roads and dependable land transportation, other than trains, and most journeys of any real distance were usually made by boat. Both Belhaven and Edenton, as well as Mackeys Ferry, became major ports for water traffic. Scheduled runs were made up the Roanoke to Plymouth and Halifax; the Cashie to Windsor; the Scuppernong to Columbia and Creswell and the Albemarle routes to Belhaven, Washington and Bayboro.

It was during the last quarter of the 19th century that Mackeys Ferry reached its peak in growth, development and economic activity. As I pointed out earlier, it was in 1873 that a group of prominent citizens from Mackeys petitioned, unsuccessfully, the North Carolina legislature to have the courthouse and county seat moved from Plymouth, which was still suffering from the devastation of the War for Southern Independence to Mackeys Ferry.

Being a ferry terminal for both rail passengers and vehicular traffic gave Mackeys a decided economic advantage over the other settlements in the county. This constant influx of a transit trade did much to stimulate local businesses. The Marriner Hotel provided travelers with lodging and meals. Room rates were two dollars per day. An academy was built to provide schooling for the local young people. A number of general stores, carrying a wide range of merchandise, were to be found on both sides of the creek. The busy fishing industry provided employment for scores of people.

In 1910, the John W. Garrett, which had done so much to expedite rail travel to and from the South Shore Settlement, left the waters of the Albemarle Sound to resume its work as a rail ferry on the Mississippi River. It was in 1910 that Norfolk-Southern Railroad completed construction of its 28,000-foot bridge across Albemarle Sound. This magnificent structure cost one million dollars to build and was the longest continuous railway bridge in the world. The time required for a passenger train to cross the sound was now reduced to 28 minutes and to 40 minutes for a 60-car freight train. Freight trains were now reaching their destination more than eight hours earlier than before.

To give you some idea as to the size of this project, consider the following: four million feet of lumber; 1,000 carloads of cypress piles; 250 car loads of steel and a train load of spikes and bolts were required in its construction. The bridge was equipped with one lift draw providing 140 feed of open space and one swing draw with a clearance of 35 feet on either side. The completion of this, the world’s longest railway bridge, began a new era in the commercial and industrial development of that part of our state served by Norfolk and Southern Railway.

The78-year history of this structure was not with incident. The original bridge was built with untreated timber and after a few years of constant use required continual maintenance. In the early 1950s, part of the bridge collapsed dropping an engine and two cars into the sound resulting in the loss of one life. In the late 1950s, much of the bridge was washed away by a violent hurricane which struck it from the West. The cost of rebuilding and maintaining the bridge finally reached the point where it was greater than the revenue generated by its use. It was abandoned in 1989 and removed shortly thereafter.

Today, the John W. Garrett is history, Mackeys Ferry a fading memory, and not one pile, tie or board remains to remind us of the once greatest railway bridge in the world.