Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gilich Netshed

Gig Harbor's Netsheds
(The Largest Inventory on Puget Sound)

We started our tour of the 17 net sheds identified on the City of Gig Harbor's "All Along the Waterfront" with a map of the netsheds, and our first stop was the Gilich netshed built by Tony Gilich and passed on to his son, Don.  That netshed started its life as a working shed and continues as a working shed today.  You might have already read the Harbor History Museum blog on Tony and Don Gilich. 

Tony Gilich (left) from a Tacoma News Tribune, article, 1971
Today's netshed was also built by Tony Gilich in the 1930s with his cousin Andrew Gilich.  It is no longer a working shed but instead is privately owned and operates as the Arabella's Landing clubhouse.

Andrew Gilich
(Image use courtesy of Lee Makovich)

So I might venture into the world of the fishermen and touch upon another contribution these men made, not only to the Gig Harbor community but to the other fishing communities in Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Point Roberts....the area that -- in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s -- was referred to as the 'nucleus of the salmon fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest.'

What was that, you ask?  Well, the fishermen were constantly trying to enlarge the market for their catch beyond the local area.  So, 35 purse seine vessel owners banded together and on March 28, 1928, formed and incorporated Fishermen's Packing Corporation, a cooperative.  Later that same month, the men were successful in buying the Everett Packing Company.  The following year, 1929, another 45 purse seine vessel owners joined the newly formed cooperative.  Not all the founders and members were from Gig Harbor, but our community was well represented. 

A young Lee Makovich
At the first meeting, Gig Harbor's Lee Makovich was elected president and he served in that capacity from 1928 to 1945 (except during 1931).  When J.O. Morris, the original general manager, unexpectively died, Lee Makovich was elected in his place and he served as G.M. until his death in 1946. 

Makovich family at Gig Harbor home.
Tony Gilich (1930), Joe Cloud (1928-29), Pete Scarponi (1932), and John Stanich (1933, '35, '36, and '37) all served as directors as well.
Pete Skarponi

The first cannery in Everett was rapidly becoming inadequate, and following extensive remodeling became a model of efficiency and sanitation for its day.  By 1938, the officers and directors of the corporation succeeded in purchasing Booth Fisheries properties, cannery building, and site in Anacortes, Washington.  It was much closer to the salmon banks and allowed the cannery renders to pick up the daily catch -- assuring freshly caught salmon and maintaining high-quality product.  Perhaps you or your parents or grandparents purchased canned salmon with labels of "Snow Cap" (sockeye), "Ocean Spray" (Coho) or "Waterfall" (pink salmon), all bearing the label "Packed by Fishermen's Packing Corporation, Anacortes, Washington in the largest salmon cannery in the United States." 

Makovich purse seiner Advocator
In 1951, major warehouse improvements were made and a new warehouse was built with modern casing, labeling, and handling equipment installed.  In 1956, the corporation built and moved into new headquarters.  1957 saw them purchasing additional vessels to increase their floating equipment.   1959 saw expansion of canning operations in Southeast Alaska, Hood Bay, Metlakatla, Hydaburg, and Klawock.  1962 brought about diversification in their Southeast Alaska operations and joint venture operations with Peter Pan Seafood Inc. at Hawk Inlet plant and reciprocal custom operations at Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Klawock, and Petersburg.
(Note:  Historical information on Fishermen's Packing Corporation is primarily taken from a partial document named "History of Fisherman's Packing Corporation" found in the Harbor History Museum Resource Room.)

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 GILICH NETSHED is the tenth 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 Gilich Netshed (presently owned by Stabley (Stan) Stearns, Arabella's Landing, Gig Harbor Marina, Inc.) 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 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 range in age from their 60s (maybe 70s) to their early 20s. They 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 family 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 netsheds 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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