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Without doubt, the best known coastal ferry is the Fall River Line of the New England Steamship Company.
The modern New England Steamship Company is the descendant of several ferry lines which took part in the ambitious rail - water through route of the Long Island Railroad.
In the early formative days of eastern railroading, there were no direct rail connections from New York City to Boston and points north. Building a railroad along the coast would be a formidable task due to all the river estuaries that had to be bridged. So, in the mid 19th century, the East still relied heavily on the packet boats.
The LIRR had the advantage of a smooth, level passage up the 100+ miles of Long Island. Thus, one could take the train from Queens to a point just opposite New London, Connecticut: bypassing the worst parts of the coast.
As conceived, LIRR trains would bring passengers from New York City (via East River ferry) up the length of Long Island to the ferry terminal at Greenport.
There, they boarded the steam packets (such as the SS Providence, below) and across Long Island Sound to Stonington, on the Connecticut - Rhode Island border. From there, a local run of 50 miles or so put you into Boston.
These services blossomed briefly, with several small lines working the Boston trade. However, by the end of the Civil War, all-rail connections had been established to Boston and the ferry lines started to wither.
Curiously, the Fall River Line, proper, started as an overnight packet boat service from Fall River, Mass to New York City. As with the Long Island's maritime ambitions, it fell victim to the all rail route of the New Haven Railroad.
In the redeployment that followed, New England Steamship wound up absorbing what was left of the Long Island packet trade and what remains of the overnight New York City packet service.
Even after through rail connections were completed along the coast, the
Fall River Line remains the fashionable way to go to Connecticut, Rhode
Island or Boston.
Check Long Island RR Index
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