Thursday, July 18, 2013

Castelan-Jerkovich Netshed (Rencowski)

Gig Harbor Netsheds
(The Largest Inventory on the Puget Sound)

Why are these buildings called netsheds?  We already know they were used to house  the nets.  But they were also used for storage, temporary bunkhouse for crew members who didn't live in Gig Harbor and as gathering places for gossip and coffee - sort of an early coffeehouse.  

Next to the boats, the nets were one of the most valuable assets and important pieces of equipment stored in them.  Because of this I'm guessing that netshed was the easiest thing to call them, although in some areas of the world they are called boat houses.

A netshed is a working structure built over water where commercial fishermen construct, mend, hang, and dry fishing nets.  These structures are also used to repair their boats and other small equipment.  And, as mentioned above, as an important gathering site for Croatian fishing families in our community.  

I think that Donald Gilich explained nets best in an article in The Peninsula Gateway dated August 2, 1989 "in purse seining the net comes in 100 mesh strips.  The strips are then laced together until the net reaches the size the fisherman wants, usually about 600 mesh deep.  Floats often called corks are sewn across one end of the net, and sinkers, or leads, on the other end."

Donald Gilich went on to explain that over the years "They (the nets) went from cotton to nylon.  That's about the only change there is.  (In 1989)  And the ropes on the net went from hemp to nylon and polyester.  The corks went from regular cork to stryofoam.  The leads were strung on the rope, now they are encased in the rope.  The nice thing about nylon is that it doesn't rot.  Cotton would rot out.  Styrofoam doesn't absord the water like cork did.  Cork would get waterlogged.  We used to wax them."

Cotton also had to be tarred to lengthen their life span, and toughen them, then dried before hanging in the netshed until the next season.  Nick Tarabochia had a tarring set-up where several of the fishermen tarred their nets.  Other fishermen like Nick Castelan had their own tarring equipment. 

Perhaps you have noticed that the old houses along Harborview Drive have a vacant lot next to the house.  These lots are where the fishermen would lay out the nets after tarring to be stretched and dried.  I imagine in late September or October the air would be filled with the strong odor of tar.  After thoroughly dry the nets were gathered up and hung in the netshed for storage until the next season.  

Now we hopefully have a better idea of how labor intensive the nets were and need for net sheds.

So as we get ready to visit the Castelan-Jerkovich Netshed fnd out a little bit about these two families, the Castelans and the Jerkovichs.  But please read the Historic Information on the City's official survey report.  

Nicholas (Nick) Castelan was naturalized a US Citizen ion October 12, 1896 at the age of 22.  His homeland was on the Isle of Mljet,, the most southerly and easterly of the larger Adriatic islands of the Dalmatia region of Croatia.  Unfortunately Nick died at a very young age of 47 in 1921.  His sons Michael (born in 1914) and Nicholas (born 1916) partnered with John Jerkovich, Sr. to build the netshed.  Previously they had used the land owned by Nick Castelan Sr. to lay out and dry their nets.  That land today is occupied by Millville Condos.

John Jerkovich Sr. was naturalized a US Citizen on February 28, 1927 at age 29.  He died on March 15, 1974.  His son and grandson followed in his footsteps as a fisherman fishing the waters from the Bering Strait to Mexico for salmon, crab, squid, sardines, herring and bottom fish.  Nick Jerkovich Jr. is still very active in the fishing community.

Both the Castelan and Jerkovich families were united by marriage when Nick Castelan's first child, Mary born January 18, 1906 married John Jerkovich, Sr. on March 4, 1924.

I want to thank the City of Gig Harbor for allowing me to use material from the Historic American Engineering Survey on Gig Harbor Net Sheds.  The complete surveys can be located  

The CASTELAN-JERKOVICH NETSHED is the seventh of 17 netsheds along Gig Harbor’s waterfront and will be the subject of this week’s blog.  A copy of the survey can be accessed at  The survey includes Engineered drawings in Plan and Profile thanks to funds provided by the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the National Trust.  To view images of the Castelan-Jerkovich Netshed (now owned by Rencowski) go to  

You can also obtain a copy of a brochure for a self-guided tour of the 17 netsheds from the City of Gig Harbor, the Harbor History Museum, or the Chamber of Commerce or click 

To me and many others, the netsheds of Gig Harbor are a constant reminder of the first major industry here after the white settlers arrived.  It was the Europeans escaping hard times in their homelands that came to Gig Harbor and either took up fishing or continued fishing earning them and their families a livelihood on the water harvesting the bountiful fish in the surrounding waters.  The principle fishermen were Croatians, but there were many Scandinavians as well.

The 'netsheds' were built by the immigrants to provide a place to mend nets, repair their boats, provide a gathering place between fishing seasons and perform other jobs necessary to get their boats ready for the next venture at sea.  Fishing is a full time job otherwise known as "12-month job".  Many men fished the Pacific Ocean waters from the coast of South America to the Bering Sea.

Today's fishermen ranging in age from their 60s (maybe 70s) to their early 20s are still carrying on the traditions and values of their ancestors. Fishing is a living, thriving, industry - young people still enter the fishing profession after completing their education.   Over the past 36 years that I have lived in Gig Harbor I have seen many historic net sheds and fishing families properties disappear.  Some of these historic properties have changed hands and have been adapted to reuse and rebuilt retaining little if any of the original features.  

When you look at the west side of Gig Harbor Bay and you'll find  the 17 net sheds we are identifying in this and the other 16 blogs, you can see the remnants of what was one of the most vibrant working waterfronts on the Puget Sound.

Okay, so now I have encouraged you to check out a few of these structures -  how do you go about it? As I mentioned earlier, the City of Gig Harbor has prepared a brochure for a self-guided tour of all 17 net sheds.  Grab a copy and then decide how you are going to do it. But remember that except for the Skansie and Ancich Brothers netsheds these netsheds are privately owned and you will need permission from the owner to enter unless they are operated as a business enterprise open to the public.

If you have a boat, that is the best way; it allows you to close your eyes and visualize how busy those properties were in their heyday.  But, though not quite as impressive, you can do the same thing walking along Harborview from the old Ferry dock at the mouth of the harbor all the way up to West Shore Marina.  

Tune in next week for the next in our series on the historic net sheds of Gig Harbor.

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