Thursday, February 26, 2015

Harbor Heights History 1953-1978

As much as I love books, and holding the actual documents in my hands to read, make notes and pondering the meanings behind the words, I have to admit I’ve become an internet junkie.  Adults are always up-in-arms about the vast amount of time young people spent on the computer and the effects of the technology diminishing the value of time.  But let me be the first to say, the internet has brought so much more information available, and easier, than sitting down tracking books and other written information when you have no idea where to begin.   All you have to do is type in a couple words and suddenly you have pages of leads to check out and see if any of them answer your questions.

I did that one day and the internet came up with a document which is the title of today’s blog.  Once I started to read the piece I immediately knew who authored it even though the author did not sign his name.  It filled in gaps of my knowledge regarding Harbor Heights Elementary School’s history.  My history of the school started in January 1977; just a year before the record ends.  

So why am I telling you this?  I asked the author, Gary Williamson, if he would object to my using his story as a blog for the Harbor History Museum.  He gave his permission, and so the following are segments of Gary’s story of Harbor Heights history.  Again, with his permission, I have placed a copy of the complete document in the files of the Harbor History Museum Research Room should you wish to read the complete document.  

Harbor Heights History 1953-1978 as written by Gary Williamson
This is just a slice of Peninsula School District history, but it is a slice I fondly remember while spending my first of 16 years of my educational career at Harbor Heights School. I’ve known that the history of the public schools on the Peninsula is long, however, I’ve recently been reminded how long when I came across the list of former schools compiled by a friend, Joan Bassett. Joan created the list of schools and added some fascinating information about the schools. That information can be found in “Peninsula Bank-Notes of October 1974. Subsequently, I went to the historical museum and found out about more schools which existed here on the Peninsula and stories about their teachers and students. 
I have thought for years that more school history should be documented and given to the museum for future interested folks to peruse. I will credit Rosemary Ross and Joan Storkman for getting me re-interested and doing something about it. I will begin with my own recollections and of course as much fact as possible, of the years I spent working for the Peninsula School District at Harbor Heights School before moving on to Discovery Elementary School. 
Harbor Heights was originally constructed in 1953 on a wonderful site atop the hill overlooking Gig Harbor Bay. It has had a proud tradition of educating the children of Gig Harbor for over 50 years. It began by serving the children of the Croatian fishing families and Scandinavian farming families as well as many other early pioneer families. The property has since been sold and is the home of the Gig Harbor City Hall. The “new” Harbor Heights School has been relocated on 36th Street. 
The school population was growing in the early 50’s and the existing schools, Rosedale, Crescent Valley and Lincoln were aging and small. The idea to consolidate those schools into one was presented to the community and approved. Harbor Heights was constructed as an eight room school with the funds available. It housed 250 children in grades 1-4. Lincoln remained open to house 5th graders while the 6th graders attended Harbor Intermediate (Goodman) School. Stan Dahl was assigned as the principal of the new school while the teaching staff came from Rosedale and Crescent Valley schools. The charter members of the teaching staff were: Evalyn Miller and Maria Hageness, grade one, Thelma Cummings and Hetty Wilkinson, grade two, Ruth Little and Mary Skrivanich, grade three, Jean Eaton and Joy Pratt, grade four, Charl Blackwood, grade five. Malcolm Martin came in 1955 to teach grade six. Rudy Moller and Roger Iverson came to teach grade six between 1956 and 1959. 
The school population continued to grow so almost as soon as Harbor Heights was constructed, an addition was in the planning stages. Once again the community accepted a bond proposal and several more rooms were added to the building. At this time Lincoln School (now the site of the Latter Day Saints Church) closed and the 5th and 6th grades began attending Harbor Heights. 
In those years funds were always scarce for the essentials such as books, paper, and other teaching supplies. Likewise, money for custodial supplies, maintenance items and transportation was scarce. Money for building schools may have been even easier to obtain than supplies as the sale of state timber harvests was the source for new schools and the timber industry was thriving. Also, the school lunch program came into existence about this time and it too flourished because government food surplus’s were funneled to schools and other public institutions. 
Stan, as principal and the teachers who worked with him did a great job of presenting an exemplary program with their knowledge of teaching, their creativity, and hard work with what we would consider today minimal resources. 
Stan was a happy, jovial person with a good sense of humor and a strong work ethic. He made parents and their children feel proud and comfortable in their school. He had strong parent support through the PTA and volunteer help. The teachers respected his leadership and the school’s overall personality was a bright spot in our community. I will have to say that one of Stan’s strongest traits was his resourcefulness. He could get supplies for maintenance and custodial needs through surplus outlets or through people he just knew. 
An example of Stan’s resourcefulness was his experience with trying to get curtains for the gym windows. The gym was used not only for P.E. but also for plays and films. The sun shone glaringly through the windows which were about 25 feet above the floor. He requested money for curtains several times and was turned down each time. Not to be defeated in his quest for curtains, Stan asked the maintenance supervisor, Morrie Campbell to see if he could find some dark material at the Boeing surplus facility to use as curtains. Morrie came in several days later with a couple of large black parachutes. Stan brought his wife’s sewing machine to school, began measuring and sewing together black parachute curtains. Morrie at the same time constructed the curtain rods, hung them and was ready for the curtains. Stan finished his sewing and he and Morrie hung the curtains on the east side of the gym. Wonderful! So, they moved to the west side, hung the curtains and they were four feet short of coming together. Instead of bringing the curtains down to sew on four more feet, Stan took the sewing machine up the ladder, placed it on the window sill and sewed on four more feet of parachute under very precarious conditions. The curtains remained in use until the building was sold and razed in the late 1990’s. 
He felt the school and in fact the school district needed more young male and female teachers in the elementary schools. He would spend time at his alma mater, Pacific Lutheran College, talking to the professors to find the best young men and women to recruit and come to the Peninsula. Several of our excellent teachers can credit him with helping them find a way to this school district. 
Stan was interested in many outside activities also. For instance, he acquired some rental homes in the Parkland area, where he spent most of his young life. He remodeled and maintained them for an additional income. He also was interested in going into private business which is where I entered the scene and work experience with Stan. 
I had begun teaching grade five at the district’s newest School, Artondale in 1959 , following a tour in the Marine Corps, college and marriage. I taught two years at Artondale and then requested a leave of absence for one year. I returned to college to complete my required 5th year of education which I included in a Master’s program in School Administration. We returned to the Peninsula in1962 and I was placed at Harbor Heights to teach grade five and complete an Intern program under the tutelage of Stan Dahl. 
Because all administrators seemed well established in this school district I began looking at other school districts which were advertising for principals. During the early spring of 1963 Stan came to me knowing I was beginning to interview with other districts and said, “Why don’t you consider staying on with this district as I am retiring to go into the road striping business.” I was surprised but immediately made an appointment with our superintendent, Harold Best. I applied for the position, was accepted and began a 15 year career as the new principal of Harbor Heights in September of 1963. I was 30 years old. 
I will never forget my first year as the principal of Harbor Heights. The school at that time housed grades 1 through 6. There were 13 teachers, 10 of whom were veterans and 3 who were new to teaching. There was 1 custodian, 2 cooks and a 1⁄2 time secretary whose primary responsibility was to count the lunch program money. There was also a band teacher who came once or twice a week to teach 5th and 6th grade band. The county provided a visiting nurse who came once a month. 
My office equipment and supplies consisted of a manual Royal ribbon typewriter, a telephone, an electric clock and bell system which was harder to set and learn about than some of my college classes. My desk and chair were oak and government surplus as were most of the teacher desks and chairs. My chair had coasters which I had to learn to balance without falling over backwards which actually happened to some school personnel who needed to make a call from the only private phone in the building. 
The service area for Harbor Heights was huge. During those years, before 1970 when Purdy Elementary opened, the service area for Harbor Heights extended from the Kitsap County line along the waterfront including Pt. Richmond to the tip of the Gig Harbor sandspit. It also took in the roads all around Burley Lagoon and Wauna. The area included North Rosedale all along past Allen’s Point, Rosedale Bay and followed Rosedale Street to Gig Harbor. Included also was all of Gig Harbor and south along Reid Road to the Narrows Bridge and then back to Gig Harbor following Highway 16. It crossed the highway to include the Midway area. I can remember several times taking sick children to their homes in Wauna and Goodman Drive almost to the county line. 
Our busses certainly put on many miles during their pick up and deliveries. 
I was recently reminded about the size of our service area while having a conversation with Mrs. Beverly Johnson. The Johnson family had five boys and lived in Wauna. At the time of this story only the two older boys were in school. One day they went to their bus stop but were too late and missed the bus. They returned home to tell their mother. Dad took their family’s only car to work so mom said, “Well, you boys will have to walk to school.” Harbor Heights was probably twelve miles from their home in Wauna. The boys took off walking and when they reached Purdy they asked someone to use their phone to call their mom and report where they were. She said, “Keep walking, you may get to school about the time to catch the bus home.” They continued, however, she then called me at school to report what happened and where the boys were. I thought there are some dangerous stretches along the highway and the children would have to cross somewhere before Gig Harbor, so I went out and picked them up, took them to school and then called Mrs. Johnson. She thanked me while at the same time let me know that by walking all the way to school it would let them learn a good lesson about getting to the bus on time. 
When I began at Harbor Heights in 1963 the District’s elementary schools were Evergreen, Vaughn, Artondale and Harbor Heights. By the 1970’s the school population continued to grow rapidly. In 1970 Purdy opened which was a blessing, however, the enrollment continued to grow so by 1975 we were beginning to think about the next school. We created a study group made up of teachers, parents, administrators. That committee created the educational specifications, (philosophy, building features, playground ideas) and delivered them to the School Board. Following the Board’s acceptance, a bond issue was presented to the community and it passed. It was then decided to employ an architect to begin with the building plans. Because we were double shifting pupils at Purdy, Harbor Heights and Artondale we decided to create a new school and house the pupils in portable buildings on the site of Peninsula High School. This would be the sixth elementary school in the district. As an interim name it was titled Satellite #6. In the school we would house pupils from all three double shifting elementary schools from grades K through 4 until the new school would open in 1981. 
At this time I had been the principal of Harbor Heights for 15 years. I applied to the superintendent, Eugene Peters, for the position of principal of Satellite #6,(Later named Discovery) and was accepted. With that I will close this chapter of Harbor Heights history as I recall it from 1953 to 1978. 
The names of the many teachers can be found with their pictures in the scrapbooks kept by the school’s archivists. Pat Bujacich can be credited for her fine work in keeping up the scrapbooks through the 1960’s and 70’s. 
As for the listing of the various teachers, principals and other employees at Harbor Height during  the 1953-1978, that information can be found on Gary Williamson’s document.  It will be filed under Schools in the Harbor History Museum.  It can also be found on the internet where I found the document, Harbor Heights History 1953-1978.
I am however including the information Gary wrote regarding some of the personnel at Harbor Heights Elementary School regarding their relationship to the early families of the greater Gig Harbor community.
Of all the personnel who worked at Harbor Heights over the years it is interesting how many have ties to early or pioneer families from the area. Below are listed those who come to mind. 
  • Rosemary Land Ross, a Gig Harbor native, whose parents homesteaded on a farm in Rosedale. 
  • Hetty Wilkinson whose family farmed off Rosedale Street and is now the site of Wilkinson Farm Park. 
  • Mary Skrivanich, who married Martin, a direct descendant of a Croatian fishing family. Mary grew up on San Juan Island and I remember her telling me how when the family needed a doctors appointment they rowed their skiff to Victoria, BC. 
  • Pat Bujacich, who married Jake, a direct descendant of a Croatian fishing family. 
  • Nancy Jerkovich, daughter of Nick Jerkovich, also from a Croatian fishing family. 
  • Jody Janovich, who also married into a Croatian fishing family. 
  • Myrtle Finholm,a member of the pioneer Hunt family, married into the Finholm family who owned the first telephone company in Gig Harbor. 
  • Ella Fosness, married into a pioneer family from the Cromwell area. 
  • Nancy Picinich, married into a Croatian fishing family. 
  • Marg Tarabochia, a Montana girl, married John, a descendant of a Croatian fishing family 
  • Dave Tarabochia, son of Marg and John, is of Croatian descent. 
  • Nelda Spadoni Langhelm, a daughter of the early Italian family who owned Spadoni Construction Company for many years in Gig Harbor. 
  • Margaret Spadoni, who married Julius Spadoni, from the early Italian family and later became president of the Spadoni Construction Company. 
  • Mary Lee Squires, daughter of Mary and Martin Skrivanich, a descendant of a Croatian family 
  • Rudy Moller, a member of the early Moller family who settled along Sunrise Beach. The Mollers donated the property now known as Sunrise Beach Park. 
To the people who gave me the boost to follow my instincts that the rich history of the Public Schools on the Peninsula should be recorded before more of it has been lost. Those giving me the boost were Rosemary Ross and Joan Storkman. Also helping jog my fading memory were Mac and Norma Martin, Pat Bujacich, Dave Trochim, Steve Aspden, and Roy Okamoto. Further information came from Harbor Heights scrapbooks and photo albums, PTA archives and the Gig Harbor Historical Society. 

Again, this blog has been brought to you via the wonders of the internet and Gary Williamson.  I hope it renewed some of your, or your children’s memories of the first Harbor Heights Elementary School in Gig Harbor.
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Emmett Hunt's Diary entry for Wednesday, March 12, 1884

Quite chilly but medium weather.  Along with ---"Uncle Dart", "The Deacon" and J- S- went to Tacoma for shaft.  Am delayed & remain overnight.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Martin Bussanich (1910-1998)

For many, when thinking about the history of our community, the same names come up over and over again.  It’s the unfamiliar names that seem to fall through the cracks.  Yet, they, the unfamiliar, are also equally important when recalling our past.

History requires records or artifacts or memories to be left behind and without those the history falls away or disappears and we are left with an incomplete story of the past.  Those lost memories may, or may not, remain fresh within the memories of the surviving family members.  But how does the general public learn about the contributions of the departed.

Today’s name may be remembered by many families who originally settled in the Millville neighborhood, but to many others it is not commonly known - Bussanich.  Luckily for us, Martin Bussanich left an oral history recorded in February, 1990 with the Harbor History Museum.  It is from that document that this blog was made possible.
Martin Bussanich (Photo belonging to Niece Allison Ackermann Kytle)

Martin Bussanich was born on September 22, 1910 in Susak, Yugoslavia.  He died on March 13, 1998 at age 87 in Gig Harbor, Washington.  As we know from previous HHM blogs and history, Yugoslavia had a varied history starting with the Greeks and Romans, then Croats, then Venice, then Napoleon who ceded the actual governing to Austria.  Then after WWI and the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Italy adopted the island and controlled it until 1943.  While under control of Italy, Susak Island was known as “Sansego”.  This name comes from the Greek word meaning ‘oregano’ and as nature would have it, oregano grows in abundance on the island.  

In the early 1940s the Nazis assumed control which lasted until 1945.  The Paris Peace Treaty added the island to that portion of land that became the newly formed country of Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito.  It wasn’t until 1991 that Croatia declared independence, and following the war in 1995, was and still remains part of Croatia.  

But Europe had been engaged in civil unrest and military crisis from the early to mid thirties, and many people were leaving Europe and finding their way to the United States.  Some were lucky, such as Martin, to have family members already living in the States.    Now, remember Martin turns 18 in September 1928.  Europe is still suffering from the first World War, and feeling the effects of economic depression which will eventually become, the the US, the 1929 collapse of the stock market and the “Great Depression”.

And when you read Martin’s account of arriving at Ellis Island, his total lack of English, and his physical condition, you may start wondering that if faced with the same difficulties, how would you handle it.  If you could!

Let’s have Martin tell us in his own words.  “Yeah there was a war and I tell you it was very tough.  You used to - I was just watching a lot of the time the woman go to put some - excuse me how I say - pick to give it to eat - some stuff.  She go away.  I used to pick up that stuff and eat it.  It was very tough, very tough.  It was really hard.  So then my dad send me a letter to do I want to come over to this country.  I say “Gee, I sure will.  I sure like to come.  Then when he send me that paper from the counsel, never was . . . .Five times I got to go to . . .? Five times.  . . . . to see if everything was ok.  They always find something wrong.  . . . . Something wrong all the time.  So once they - maybe I got it right and by God I got in.  So it was . . . March - 19. . .  That ship is no more.  1928 I come over - yeah - 1928.”

So, let’s hear Martin’s recollection.  “When I come over, I was in third class.  So I come over and - you got to go through examination. . . . Ellis Island - yes.  Geez what a tough time I had.  So I went over there.  You know, it was so rough, I was weak.  I eat nothing.  I was so weak.  Then they stopped me there - right there.  That’s what I said, “Look they bring blind guys and everything, but what a tough time I got.’  So they stopped me for one month.  They figured they going to send me back to Europe.  So what did they do?  My dad - he got a lawyer.  Sure.  So lawyer went to see you know this bad guys and talked to them.  They said ‘Yeah, we can leave him three months.  Three months.  After they going to give me an examination again.  So I went, three months come and my dad say ‘How about I go see them again and maybe they can give you another three months.’  So he went to see the lawyer and by gosh and he said ‘Yes, we can do it.’  So the lawyer went to see the big guys and asked for me if they’d let me stay another three months.  The lawyer then - then the big shots say ‘Yes, he can stay another three months, but after three months got to go another examination.  If they find something wrong, he’s got to go back.’  So then another three months come and I go to see the island - what do you call it? . . .Ellis Island.  See three doctors - not one - three.  They took you know like your mother got - all clothes out - and they poke me here and they poke me all over.  The blood that fall down on the floor - I took my handkerchief and wiped it up.  I said “I wish you could say that I’d like to stay here.’  I couldn’t talk - nothing.  They was talking but I couldn’t understand it.  So when they was talking, they tell me to put my clothes on and go.  My dad was outside.  He couldn’t come in.  So I put my clothes on.  My dad asked and they said nothing.  He said ‘We find out later.’  We took the ferry and went home.  I was living in . . . house.  Then I was waiting, waiting, waiting.  So I figured for sure they got something wrong. . . . . between that time - before they got lawyered me up - you know what they did?  

They brought me on the ship.  Yeah, I forgot that.  They brought me on the ship and they locked me up and they locked me up with another three or four guys.  They locked me up.  The ship was supposed to leave in another half hour.  It was supposed to leave to go to Europe again.  I was crying.  Oh you can’t believe it.  So the other guys - I had my little suitcase.  I never seen no other people on dock.  The ship was blowing the whistle to go soon.  Oh I was so - boy, I’m telling you.  I went through lots o . . . before I stopped in this country.  They brought blind and all kinds of people - you know.  So, one guy - the detective brought me right on that ship . . . they brought me right on the ship and locked me up.  Not like this - put me on the roof.  I stood there.  The whistle blow three times on that ship.  So once - I was crying.  So I see somebody - we asked somebody to open that jail that I was.  They brought somebody else to open up.  And it was the lawyer.  I was sitting down on the suitcase and cry you know.  He said ‘Martin Bussanich.’  I jumped so much.  That suitcase - you can’t believe how I jumped so much.  They took me out.  So I figure I’m going to go home to my dad.  So I went out and the ship - gee, I was so mad.  So I can’t understand how he’s talking.  He said ‘Was I hungry?’  I said ‘Yeah.”  

Yeah.  So we went in a restaurant.  So what am I going to order?  I can’t order much because I don’t understand.  I don’t know nothing about this country - nothing.  So I look at the one guy.  He was eating.  I said ‘I want that.’  The guy was looking at me.  So I eat.  I take the eggs and pancakes and toast and potatoes - scrambled - what you call it.  Yeah.  After that I figure he’d take me home.  So I look for my dad and I don’t  see nobody.  Mt daddy was working.  So we went back on the ferry but on the island again.  Geez - what is wrong with me?  Back there.  I want to see what is going on.  How are you going to know?  You can’t understand.  So I think finally one guy on the ferry - he was Slavonian guy.  Then I talk to him Slavonian and said ‘Ask this guy why he’s going to put me on the island again.’  Well he said ‘You’re going on the island to - ‘  That time I got examination - that time.  I made a mistake.  That time I got examination and I don’t know nothing.  So he said ‘They going to find out how you’re doing.

“ . . (the first words were garbled/can’t hear) My dad come.  Now he said “You got to stay another two or three days till you get examination.’  I said ‘OK’  So I got examination.  Like I said I got examination.  When they got through, I went out.  So when I went out, we went home - me and dad.  He don’t know nothing.  He asked me if I know anything.  I didn’t. . . . examination - three doctors, not one - three.  I’ll never forget that.  I went out and we went home.  So we wait and wait and wait.  We got letter.  We got letter from the big shots and I’m allowed to stay here.  Yeah, forever.So, geez, I was so glad.  Then I started work.”

The interviewer asks Martin when he started to learn English and Martin replies “Well I still don’t know too much.  And the school you know -  Pick it up very slow.”
Martin Bussanich in center.  (Photo belongs to Niece, Allison Ackerman Kytle)

Martin worked with his father on the Lackawanna Railroad and in a factory on the East Coast before he came to Gig Harbor in 1940.  It was here that he started fishing with Tony Skrivanich, his brother-in-law, and his cousin, Martin Morin, and his brother, Tony Bussanich.

To read the complete oral history, please make an appointment with the Harbor History Museum, and spend a little time in the beautiful Research Room reading.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Emmett Hunt's Diary entry for Wednesday, March 5, 1884

Cold & NW wind with scattering flakes of snow.  Just about succeeded in getting our tank done today.  We will do more tomorrow.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

SS Beaver

SS Beaver taking on firewood
The SS Beaver, built in Blackwell and the engine in Birmingham, England in 1834 was the first steamer in the Pacific Ocean; the first to cross the Columbia River bar and the first to negotiate the swift waters of the Columbia River; the first to make a regular passenger run between Washington and Oregon; the first steamship on Puget Sound; and the first steamship to be used as a patrol boat on the Pacific Northwest coast.  (Time Machine by Caroline Kellogg, Tacoma News Tribune, July 8, 1979).

In 1822 the United States built Savannah was the first steamship to cross an ocean on a voyage to England.  But unfortunately the US did not continue exploring the development of steam at that time.  This gave England an advantage as they saw a future in steam and took steps to develop steam engines.  However, when the SS Beaver sailed to the Pacific Ocean she did not sail under steam but instead traveled under sail with her steam-driven paddle wheels stowed in the hold.  (Tacoma News Tribune May 14, 1967 -Steamship Beaver Made History).

The reason behind using sail power to cross was simple:  the trip was far too long to carry enough fuel for the entire trip.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

The Birmingham firm that built the engines was Boulton & Watt;  legend has it that James Watt decided that steam could be harnessed to provide power when watching his mother’s teakettle boil.  (Time Machine by Caroline Kellogg, Tacoma News Tribune, July 8, 1979).

The SS Beaver was built for the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Her keel was 101 feet long, had a 32-foot beam and ll-foot draft.  The boilers alone weighed 63.5 tons and cost $22,000.($591,897.81 in 2014).  

In December 1835 the SS Beaver left England on her trip around Cape Horn and she arrived on the Columbia River April 1836.  The Beaver carried a crew of 26, five cannon and capacity of 109 tons. (Time Machine by Caroline Kellogg, Tacoma News Tribune, July 8, 1979)  

However this was a trip that might never have happened if Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor for Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver had had his way.   Dr. McLoughlin had protested to the governors in London from the beginning when they informed him of their plans to build a steamship for the Columbia River trade.  His reasoning was not uncommon when faced with a new technology.  “Why, there was nothing that could displace sails and God’s own wind for propulsion.  If the steamship is found on full trial not to answer so well as expected, will you please inform me if we are nevertheless to keep her or send her home or sell her?”  Despite his protests, the management in England proceeded with their plans and the construction of the Beaver.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

Upon arrival at Fort Vancouver the paddle wheels were installed, and the engine and boiler tested and at 3:30 on a Tuesday morning, May 17, 1836, the SS Beaver weighed anchor and pulled away from the bank.  The little steamship traveling under her own power for the first time, proudly steamed down the Columbia River.  Captain Horne, her first skipper, pulled the whistle lanyard.  Dogs howled at the strange noise and the Indians ran infer of the “fire canoe” that howled like a wolf.  ((Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

In the beginning while running a freight and passenger run between Fort Vancouver and Fort Nisqually Hudson Bay Company discovered it was too costly to continue.  Later the SS Beaver was transferred permanently to Fort Nisqually.  It was during this time that she became a patrol and trading boat running between Fort Nisqually and the northern trading posts.  Her trips sometimes took her as far as Russian Sitka (Alaska) and visited nearly every bay and inlet between Russian Sitka and Puget Sound to trade with the Indians.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

The northern tribes -Haidas, Tlingit and Kwakiutl were much more warlike than their neighbors to the south.  As a result the SS Beaver and her crew always had to take precautions against surprise attacks.  “The decks were protected by boarding nettings to prevent access by the natives otherwise than the gangways, and more than thirty Indians were never allowed on deck at one time, unless they were accompanied by their wives and children” according to Edward Huggins, the last chief factor at Nisqually House.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

Fifteen years after first arriving at the Columbia River, the SS Beaver was replaced in 1851 by the Otter, a propeller driven ship.   Both ships however will placed at the disposal of the government of the Washington Territory during the Indian Wars in the Puget Sound Region in 1855-1856.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

The Beaver was transferred to what is now known as British Columbia, Canada when Great Britain terminated the Joint Occupation Treaty.  Her last trip to Puget Sound area was made under the command of a Captain Seward.  He made a trip to the upper Puget Sound but encountered problems when the US Customs Service seized the Beaver and impounded it for an infraction of revenue laws.  Captain Seward decided he wasn’t going to accept any of the highhanded American officialdom.  He waited until the watchman left the ship for a time and hurriedly got up steam and left American waters for good.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)

By 1860 Hudson’s Bay Company decided the Beaver was no longer profitable in the trade and she was outfitted as a passenger ship and made runs between New Westminster and Victoria for several years.   She was chartered by the Imperial Hydrographic Office to use as a survey boat and map most of the coastal waters of British Columbia.  Finally in 1874 the Hudson’s Bay Company sold her to work as a tug.  In 1880 she was extensively damaged due to a fire aboard but was rebuilt and continued her work as a tow.  She was damage a couple more times and then, the end finally came in 1888.  The Beaver hit some rocks just outside Vancouver, and due to her age and the cost of salvage was left stranded on the rocks.  (Boiler of Pacific’s First Steamship Here by William J. Betts)  

In 1966 a replica of the SS Beaver was built to help celebrate the Centenary of the Union of the Canadian Crown Colonies on Vancouver Island and the mainland.  It visited the Puget Sound and Tacoma in May 1967.  (Replica of Ship Not Seen Here For Over 100 Years Makes Port, Win Anderson May 10, 1967 and McNeil Island Gets Beaver Salute by Rod Cardwell, Tacoma News Tribune)

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Emmett Hunt's Diary entry for Wednesday, February 27, 1884

Bright sunny & warm.  Finished puttying the boat & set her up ready for some paint.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Captain Nels G. Christensen

When looking through the files at Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor, like any search in other museums, it is like opening a treasure chest.  You never know or anticipate the treasure that will catch your attention, or why?  What was there about the treasure you found?  I have no answers.  I know everyone’s treasure may be different.  

But my treasure for today is the following letter I discovered.  This very heartfelt letter was written April 30, 1987 to the Washington State Historical Society Centennial Hall of Honor Committee in Tacoma, Washington.

Dear Committee Members:

I would like to nominate my uncle, Capt. Nels G. Christensen, to the Washington State Historical Society Centennial Hall of Fame.  He was captain and owner of the Virginia I, II, III, IV and V passenger boats on puget sound.

Nels G. Christensen was born in Denmark, in 1872.  As an infant he arrived in the U. S. with his parents.  The family settled in Seattle, Washington in 1876.

Grown to manhood and married in Seattle, he moved his family to Lisabuela on Vashon Island, March 12, 1908.  A barge with a tugboat to tow, transferred all their possessions plus lumber for a new house to be built on the Island.

During the next year he became dissatisfied with the commuting service, the water transportation was not adequate for the residences of the West Pass.  The summer of 1910 several meetings of interested men was held, to attempt to solve this problem.  Nels was elected to collect enough money to buy a boat.  His efforts resulted in zero dollars.

A friend and neighbor, John Holm, later agreed to put up half the money, $2,00.00 ($62,500.00 in 2014).  The next day for $5,000.00 ($125,000 in 2014), Nels bought the … boat Virginia Merrill.  She was renamed and christened Virginia I, the first of the Virginia series was started.  Captain Christensen was founder, and president, of the West Pass Transportation Company from 1909-1936.

John Holm dropped out of the company after one year.  Capt. Christensen continued to hold controlling interest in the company stock, for the next thirty years.

The service of the Virginia I was so dependable the business expanded.  Over the years the Virginia II, III, IV and V continued the water service on Puget Sound from Seattle to Tacoma.  These boats were a part of the well-known “Mosquito Fleet”.

The Virginia V was constructed in 1922, the last passenger steamboat to be built on the sound.  The Virginia V was designed by Capt. Christensen, and built for him at Maplewood, Washington.

Capt. Christensen died July 19, 1936.  The Marine Digest July 25, 1936 printed “Capt. Christensen was long known as one of the constructive leaders in Puget Sound shipping.  He had the confidence,, esteem, and friendship, of the North West business world, as well as the waterfront shipping circle and the traveling public.  He founded the West Pass Transportation Co. in 1909, and from then until his death was its active head and manager.  No other transportation concern now engaged in the sounds local routes, had such a record of continuity of control, and managership by one man.  In the west pass district embracing the west side of Vashon Island, and the mainland districts on the opposite side of that body of water, Capt. Christensen had come to be regarded as an institution in himself.”

In 1973 the Virginia V was placed on the “National Register of Historical Sites, a testimony to her well deserved distinction, as a contribution to the annuals of American History.”

Under the auspices of the Virginia V Foundation and the Northwest Steamboat Company, and many volunteers, she will celebrate her 65th university this June 1987.

The well built Virginia V is still using the steam engine from the Virginia IV steamer, & has outlived all other steamboats on the sound.

To-day the Virginia V is still a pleasure steamer plying the waters of Puget Sound.

Thank you for reading this,
Wallace Christensen
Deck Hand 1928-1929

References:  1. Family History
2. Isle of the Sea Breezes - Roland Carey
3. Steamboats - Virginia V - M. S. Kline
4.  (Not legible)

Of course, once I read the letter then all sorts of questions entered my mind; most important of course was, did Captain Nels G. Christensen’s name get placed on the Washington State Historical Hall of Fame.  Joy Weblink, Research Librarian, WA State Historical Society, has advised that Capt. Christensen was not one of the 100 Washingtonians selected for the WA State Centennial Hall of Honor in 1989.  That does not however diminish his contributions to sea transportation in the Puget Sound.
Virginia III at Pier 4, Seattle.  Originally "Typhoon II" and built for Lorenz Bros. in Tacoma in 1910.  91 Tons, 92.8 ft long, 19.4 ft. beam, 5.5 draught.  In 1914 acquired by West Pass Transportation Company and completely remodeled & renamed Virginia III.  One of her captains was a J. J. Macmillan who died 1935 at age 43.

I do know that the Tyrus built by the Lorenz Brothers was sold to West Pass Transportation Company in 1918 and renamed Virginia IV.   I also found a reference in Google Books -Pacific Marine Review, Vol. 15, The Past Month in Tacoma by Special Correspondent “The passenger steamer Tyrus, built here in 1904 by the Lorenz Brothers, has been sold by them to West Pass Transportation Company, and will be operated between Tacoma and Seattle, via the East Pass route, both in freight and passenger trade.  The new owners have been running boats on the West Pass route for several years.”
Built by John J. Hill, Tacoma, 1904, for Lorenz Bros. (Ed, Otto & Oscar).  174 Ton passenger steamer, 97.6 ft long, 22.7 ft. beam, 6.7 draught.  Sold Nels Christensen of Lisabuela 1918 renamed Virginia IV.  Wrecked 4/24/1935 near entrance to Lisianski St. while bound for Kimshan Cove, AK

In an article on the “History of the Virginia V” I found that the Virginia Merrill Captain Christensen’s first steamboat was a 54-foot (16 m) long gasoline-powered tug, and Capt. Christensen converted her into a small ferry.

The engine which powered the Virginia V as mentioned by Wallace Christensen in his last sentence was a “1898 triple expansion reciprocating steam engine built by Heffernan Iron Works of Seattle, an engine that was originally fitted into her predecessor, Virginia IV”. 

I discovered at the Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room Image Archives that the crew of the Virginia V saved several people when a municipal streetcar crashed through the gate of the 11th Street (Murray Morgan) Bridge plunging into the Thea Foss waterway.  The streetcar broke apart spilling passengers as it fell.  The Virginia V was docked nearby and the crew rushed into action, pulling several people from the water four of which were injured.  The death count was five.  Crew members included:  David Balduzi, Alfred Jergenson, J. Christensen, Joe Brooks, Claude Williams, Al Torgeson and Capt. Nels Christensen.

Karen Borell wrote an excellent history of Lisabeula for the Washington Water Trails Association - Cascadia Marine Trail.  I suggest reading it to better understand Captain Christensen’s home on Vashon Island.

Have I whetted your imagination yet on how much you can learn from a simple letter?  (Are you ready to become a history detective?
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Emmett Hunt's Diary entry for Wednesday, February 20, 1884

Considerable warmer.  Some snow some fog & some rain, steady rain in eve.  Snow 22 inches this morn.  Put in the day puttying boat.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.