Thursday, August 29, 2013

Skansie Netshed

Gig Harbor Netsheds
(The Largest Inventory on Puget Sound)

What can I tell you about the Skansie family that has not already been told, or written about, or documented?  It doesn't matter if you are an old-timer, a newcomer, or a visitor,  the Skansie name is recognizable.  

Local Washington magazines feature this remarkable family and their history as do national magazines.  Smithsonian Magazine featured them in the guide to the 10 Best Small Towns in America when they showcased Gig Harbor.   The National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsored the Partners in Preservation Program with a contribution from American Express, of which Gig Harbor was fortunate to be a recipient, receiving funds to save the netshed. Check out  The Skansie Bros. Park property is used for many events throughout the year from the summer concerts, summer outdoor movies, the kayak & canoe practices and local meets, summer farmers markets, Street Scramble, Harbor Hounds, and on and on.  Weddings have been held in the pavillon on the grounds.  In other words, the park is a very popular destination.

But what I would like to share with you today is the large part this property and family played in establishing the Gig Harbor Working Waterfront, a major industry not only in Gig Harbor but also in Pierce County and the Puget Sound.  "Skansie Built" boats became well known all along the West Coast and Alaska due to materials, workmanship and the fact that these boats were really made to last, and last they did!
Andrew Skansie house on Harborview Drive.
 Staring in 1912, the netshed and adjoining property were used to support the Skansie Boat Building Co. construction operations as builders of watercraft.  Prior to that time they had been purchasing their hulls from suppliers and then modifying them by adding cabins and rigging for purse seine operations.  Mitchell Skansie decided that wasn't a profitable practice.

Skansie Ship Building Co., site of today's Gig Harbor Marina
on Harborview Drive, at Pioneer Way

Mitchell hired his friend Sam Kazulin to design and help build the first vessel from the keel up.  This first boat was a 62-ft. straight deck vessel and although it had some drawbacks, such as the lack of headroom in the engine room and crews quarters, the finished boat named Oceania was in 2001 being used as a live-aboard -- according to the late Gig Harbor historian Lee Makovich.  It was the only straight deck boat  designed or built by Skansie; they used the same hull design but never the straight deck.
Mitchell Skansie (right front) and crew
 In 1927 their advertising for Skansie Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Company was described as builders of Purse Seiner, Cannery Tenders, Ferry Boats and Yachts-Cruisers. The advertisement listed: a steel and concrete dry dock 54-ft x175-ft with a draft clearance of 10-ft., an engine room and blacksmith shop 50-ft x60-ft, modern marine ways with capacities 65-ft and up to 500 tons deadweight, main building shed 60-ft x 175-ft with a clearance above keel blocks of  30-ft, a smaller building shed and joiner shop 32-ft x 165-ft with a fitting out wharf 300-ft in length.  The ad went on to state "We specialize in the building of Commercial and Pleasure Craft of every description.  All new construction and overhauling of Ferry Boats for the Washington Navigation Co. occupies a portion of our plant.  All work under the direction of experienced superintendent and skilled help."

Andrew Skansie's 50-ft purse seiner "Aeroplane,"
built by Martinolich boat builders in Dockton and launched in 1910.

On a list of Skansie-built Gig Harbor fishing boats compiled by Lee Makovich, I counted 98 fishing boats built by the Skansie Ship Building Company.  And that does not include any ferry boats.  The ferry boats and the Washington Navigation Co. came about when the automobile began to be more common and, without a bridge, needed to be transported across Puget Sound to Tacoma.  Mitchell founded the company and in the 1930 operated 7 ferries and 4 routes.  When Pierce County could no longer afford to run its own ferry services, Mitchell and his company took over those routes.
Ferry under construction at Mitchell Skansie's boatyard.
This is a very short overview highlighting one portion of the important contributions of the Skansie family to the community of Gig Harbor and their historic importance.

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 SKANSIE NETSHED is the thirteenth 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 Skansie Netshed (presently owned by City of Gig Harbor, Washington) go to  When you read the Skansie Netshed survey, please be sure to read the the More Information On The Skansie Netshed attachment

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 who came to Gig Harbor and either took up fishing or continued fishing as 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 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 for reuse and have been 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 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.  

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing! Nice post!
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