Thursday, August 15, 2013

Novak (Stearns) Netshed

Gig Harbor Netsheds
(The Largest Inventory on Puget Sound)

Last week when we visited Andrew Gilich and Tony Gilich's netshed, I shared with you information on a tremendous contribution that the Gig Harbor fishermen made to the wider world of salmon fishery through the participation in the Fishermen's Packing Corporation, a co-operative formed in 1928.  I say tremendous because this co-op allowed their product (salmon) to be marketed to the entire USA, not just the local area or west coast.  But the contributions of the fishermen didn't stop at that.  The contributions that they made, and continue to make, are not limited to harvesting of the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound.
Frank Novak on horse
Tony Novak built today's netshed for his family where their boats were moored but also provided moorage for other local fishermen.  And, this netshed and fishing was not the only family business.

Tony's family, headed by his father, John Novak, his Uncle Frank in Tacoma, and his maternal grandfather Captain John "Humboldt Jack" Cosgrove all contributed to the establishment and growth of Gig Harbor beyond fishing.  Captain "Humboldt Jack" came to Puget Sound in 1850 and by 1860 had secured the mail contract for the Puget Sound area using the sloop "Maria."  When John Novak arrived around 1878 he worked for awhile with Captain Cosgrove.  Captain Cosgrove died in 1878 from a fall when he was attempting to hang a bunch of bananas on a nail, lost his balance, fell hitting his temple on the corner of a box.  He never regained full consciousness and died approximately two hours later.  (Lewis & Dryden's "Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, 1895)
Following his father-in-law's death, John Novak decided to settle in Gig Harbor. John had also met, fell in love with, and married Josephine (Zephina) Cosgrove on the 21st of December 1886, and over the years had 12 children, two of which unfortunately died at birth.  As well as fishing, John built Novak & Sons General Merchandise store with Tony as manager. The store was located on the site of today's store Harbor Peddler. The additions on the sides of the standing store housed hay and grain on one side and a pool hall on the other.  The hay and grain storage was converted into rental apartments for boat crews from out of town and called Millville Hotel.  Both additions were demolished later, perhaps after the fire which destroyed almost the entire Novak block in the 1920s.
Novak & Sons store
Site of Novak Hotel

In June, 1888, John joined with Joseph Dorotich and their wives to lay out and plat into town lots and streets the Town of Millville.  (Photocopy of Dedication Book 2, Plats, Page 23) 
First Gig Harbor School, 1899-1900

In 1924, Frank Novak, John's eldest son, built the 2-story Novak Hotel across the street from where Andrew Gilich and Austin Richardson were building their Peninsula Hotel.  Both hotels had commercial and office spaces on the first level with furnished rooms with hotel accommodations on the second level.  (The Peninsula Gateway, 1219/24)  These two new buildings were part of the new downtown area growing around the intersection of today's Pioneer Street and Harborview Drive that had been initiated following the move of the ferry dock from Finholm District to the end of Harborview Drive in 1923.

Crew clearing land for new Lincoln School 1910
Frank died at the age of 36, on October 16, 1926; John Novak died at 86 on November 30, 1933, Josephine age 70 in 1938 and Tony age 91 on November 26, 1983.

These are not the only contributions made by the fishing community, we are just getting started.  

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 NOVAK NETSHED is the eleventh of 17 netsheds along Gig Harbor’s waterfront and is 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 Novak Netshed (presently owned by Stanley "Stan" Stearns, Arabella's Landing, Gig Harbor Marina, Inc.) and occupied by Netshed No. 9, a restaurant,  go to

You can also obtain a copy of the 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 and 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 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 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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