Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ross (Whittier) Netshed

Gig Harbor Netsheds
(The Largest Inventory on Puget Sound)

Today's visit takes us to the Ross Netshed which has been extensively remodeled.  The original house was built in 1910 and according to the City of Gig Harbor Netshed Survey the netshed was built ca. 1925.  I have been unable to discover information on the original netshed and its use other than the normal usage for equipment and family boats.  This is an important reminder to us on how very important it is to retain pictures and a record as best we can on the historical properties within our community, especially those over 100 years in age.  And, like everything else, including us, these properties age each year.
Ross family portrait
A lengthy blog on the Ross Family was published on the Harbor History Museum Blog on April 25, 2013.  The following information is taken from that blog but we still hope you will read the entire earlier piece.  Lee Makovich also wrote a very interesting piece entitled The Ross Brothers at Home on the Salmon Banks in the October 1996 issue of The Fishermen's News if you have an opportunity to read it.  It is available in the Harbor History Museum's Resource Center.

As you wander through the museum you'll find the Ross family well represented, or you might happen to meet one of our docents, Rosemary Ross, hard at work with the Midway Schoolhouse "classes" of young students.  I thought you might enjoy learning a little more about the family Rosemary married into; there is so much more to tell about this prominent family than what is contained in this brief blog. But it's a start.

John (Yodrossich) Ross Sr. arrived in Gig Harbor in 1888. He had left his home on the island of Premuda (Croatia) in the Adriatic Sea on a year-long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. He traveled down and around Cape Horn and up along the west cost of South America, Baja California and the west coast of the US arriving in Gig Harbor. 

He ran an eight-man oar boat. The crew set the nets and pulled in the catch by hand.  John was one of the first Gig Harbor fishermen to take his open vessel north to the San Juans and Alaska, where he and the crew camped ashore at night to cook and collect fuel and water.  Even then, they were gone for three months at a time.  
Off the San Juan Island fishing grounds
John's first purse seiner was a 45-foot open vessel named "Bogdon," built in Seattle at the H. W. Lake Shipyard in 1909 and powered by a 20 h.p. Frisco Standard gas engine.  John Sr. had named it after his son "Danny" who passed away as a young boy.  John operated the "Bogdan" in Puget Sound until 1914 when he sold it.  He immediately had his new boat, a 52-foot seiner "Brooklyn" built at the Strubstad yard in Tacoma.
Early 20th century Gig Harbor fishing boat
In October 1902 John Sr. purchased Lot 8 Block 6 in the Town of Millville for $350, and in September 1907 purchased Lot 9 for $100.  John Ross Sr. died on July 20, 1928 leaving behind his brother Luca Ross, his sons John Ross Jr., Adam and Emmett Ross, four daughters, Mrs. Anna Musnov, Mrs. Fannie Brumcev, Mrs. Winnie Brycicick, and Miss Agnes Ross and 16 grandchildren.  Emmett, Adam and Johnnie Ross all began their long fishing careers as skippers in the early 1920s.
Various boats from the Gig Harbor fishing fleet
in the San Juan Islands
His oldest son, John Ross, Jr., was one of the first non-Indian children born in Gig Harbor, and he carried on his father's tradition of fishing not only in Puget Sound but also in the San Juans and Alaska.  John Jr. also skippered the early ferry boats"Skansonia" and "Defiance," running between Gig Harbor and Pt. Fosdick, and "The City of Tacoma" running from Pt. Fosdick and Fox Island. John Jr. ran the fishing boats "Providence" and "Advocator" for Lee Makovich Sr.  John Jr. also skippered the "Majestic," "Juno" and Gerald Crosby's "Sea Comber."   

Lee Makovich purse seiner "Advocator"

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 ROSS NETSHED is the twelfth  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 does not includes Engineered drawings in Plan and Profile because the netshed has been modified for use as a residence.  To view images of the Ross Netshed (presently owned by Pete Whittier's Estate, Gig Harbor Fishing Co., Gig Harbor) 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 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, 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 f
erry 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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