Bee Line Ferry

  • Jul 2, 2012
Image Bee Line Ferry

Postcard of the "Manatee" Bee Line Ferry

Before the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1954, the automobile trip between Bradenton and St. Petersburg was a 49 mile drive up State Road 41 through Tampa and then using the Gandy Bridge or the Courtney Campbell Causeway.  Starting in 1926, the Bee Line Ferry offered travelers and residents a much quicker way to get to St. Petersburg from Piney Point in northern Manatee County.  By taking your car and passengers by ferry, you could shorten the trip across Tampa Bay to only 22 miles and arrive in about 40 minutes to an hour. 

 

The cost was only $3.00 round trip for a car and passengers. The Captain of the Bee Line made $21.85 per day.  Deckhands made $12.75 and had to work 12-hour shifts and 60-hour weeks.  During the winter season, the Bee Line used four ferries and made eight round trips per day to handle the tourists coming to the area.  The largest of the ferries could carry 36 cars, two others carried 25 each and the smallest one carried only 18 cars.  At times the wait for the ferries could be as long as three to four hours. 

 

There was a concession stand at Piney Point that sold cold and hot drinks, candy bars, ice cream, sandwiches, cigars, cigarettes, and souvenirs.  The stand was operated by a Jonnye and Alma Winters, a local family.  Many members of the Winters family worked in some way with the Bee Line Ferry.

 

There were celebrities that used the ferries, such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Ted Williams as well as other ball players who were in spring training camps on the Gulf Coast.  Special guests were given a tour of the wheelhouse of the ferry.  The Ringling Circus used the ferries to transport their animals when they traveled to do their summer circuit around the country.  The elephants proved to be fun passengers when they found sport in grabbing the life preservers from the overhead with their trunks and plop them down on the deck.

 

The Bee Line became obsolete and went out of business when the Skyway Bridge opened linking Bradenton and St. Petersburg.

 

Information obtained - Bradenton Herald "Winter Brothers remember Piney Point's Ferry service of long ago" Vin Mannix August 12, 2011

 

Feb 20, 2015 - Anne Zuber reported to Manatee County Government that the site was managed by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Reddyn Smith, Jr. and that several members of the Winters family worked for them.