The Nishnabotna Ferry House, located at 57201 Nishna Valley Road, is probably the only known ferry keeper’s home still in existence on the Mormon Handcart Trail. Thought to have been constructed in 1850, in the Greek Revival style, the setting of this home remains rural in character with an “air of serenity” and an authentic “sense of time” reflecting its place in history.
It sat near the banks of the East Nishnabotna River. In 1928, the river was straightened and as a result the river is now further west of the house.
The road in front of the house was originally a buffalo trail and an Indian trail. It later became part of the state road from Des Moines to Council Bluffs. When Highway 6 was constructed, the road became a county road. The road and ferry were used by the western migration of emigrants, stage coach and mail route, the Underground Railroad, a later Mormon Trail and the Mormon handcart companies. The cable ferry carried fugitives across the river when the river was high. This was a critical point as it was closely watched when Freedom Seekers were thought to be around. Reverend Hitchcock states in a letter to the American Home Missionary Society dated November 1853 that “All roads passing through this state and the northeastern part of Missouri met at this point…”
The house is located ½ mile north and ½ mile east of the Hitchcock House on Nishna Valley Road. The Hitchcock House Advisory Board recently made improvements to the land it sits on with a gravel parking area with signs on the north side of the parking depicting the historical facts about the house.
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The ferry house became the home of Samuel Harlow Tefft who operated the cable ferry across the East Nishnabotna River from 1857 to 1859. The road that the ferry served was originally an Indian trail that became a primary route used by western bound emigrants, a stage coach and mail route, the Underground Railroad, a later Mormon Trail, and the Mormon handcart companies. A toll bridge was built here 1853 or 1854. It became unstable by 1856. Tefft bought the property in 1857 in order to operate the cable ferry, and it is assumed that the house had already been built by that time. The ferry business was brisk at Lewis. In November 1858, according to county records, Tefft had collected $9,860 in tolls from that date to April 1859. The Lewis ferry was the only ferry in operation until you got to Missouri, approximately 70 miles south.
A new bridge was built by Cass County in 1859, ceasing cable ferry needs. Samuel Tefft continued to be very active in the Lewis area, serving on the school board & as a school trustee. He enjoyed good health until his death in 1904. He and his wife are buried in Oakwood Cemetery at Lewis. Several different families lived in the house until the mid-1970s. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.