Eastside Heritage Center

Eastside Stories: The Ferries of Lake Washington

No. 1 | February 6, 2019

Eastside Stories

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Eastside Stories   is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

Eastside Stories is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

Welcome to Eastside Stories, a new series from the Eastside Heritage Center. Through these periodic postings we will bring Eastside History to life and highlight the people, places and events that have shaped its remarkable evolution.

The Ferries of Lake Washington

We’ll begin our series of Eastside Stories with one of the things that made settlement of the Eastside possible: ferries on Lake Washington.

The earliest settlers got around by rowboat and canoe, but for the Eastside to grow as an agricultural area and as a commuter suburb, it would need reliable transportation to the burgeoning city of Seattle.

 
The Leschi, in her early steam sidewheel configuration. She was later converted to diesel engines with propellers. (Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime)

The Leschi, in her early steam sidewheel configuration. She was later converted to diesel engines with propellers. (Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime)

By the 1880s, entrepreneurs had seen enough people settling around Lake Washington to justify ferry service. The first problem was to get boats onto the lake, since the Lake Washington Ship Canal was still just a pipe dream. Some early ferries were built in yards in Seattle and Houghton. Others were dragged up the Black River, which drained the lake through Renton.

Early passenger steamers, like Acme , Dawn and Elfin needed a place to land. King County built a series of wharves around the lake, and most residents lived within easy distance of a ferry landing. And there was always the option of flagging a ferry for an unscheduled stop at a private dock.

By the early 20 th Century, Seattle was growing like crazy—from 50,000 people in 1890 to 250,000 in 1910—and all those new people needed to eat. Eastside farmers could supply produce, but loading it on and off small steamers would not do the trick. So, ferries for wagons and the growing fleet of cars and trucks began to ply the lake. The vehicle ferries Kent , Washington and Lincoln served on the Madison Park-Kirkland route beginning around 1900.

 
The Ariel operated on a route from Madison Park to Houghton, serving wharfs on Evergreen, Hunts and Yarrow Points. She was owned by the Johnson brothers and was the only steamer on the lake that stayed out of the hands of Captain Anderson. She ended her days serving as student housing on Portage Bay. (Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime)

The Ariel operated on a route from Madison Park to Houghton, serving wharfs on Evergreen, Hunts and Yarrow Points. She was owned by the Johnson brothers and was the only steamer on the lake that stayed out of the hands of Captain Anderson. She ended her days serving as student housing on Portage Bay. (Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime)

The most ambitious ferry project was the Leschi, a steel-hulled ferry commissioned by the new Port of Seattle in 1912. The ship canal had still not opened, and there were no yards on the lake that could build a steel hull. So the hull was fabricated on the Duwamish, disassembled and re-assembled at Rainier Beach. The Leschi originally served Meydenbauer Bay and Medina (that's the Leschi in Meydenbauer Bay in the background of the the EHC logo) but the Meydenbauer stop was dropped in 1920. The Seattle-Medina route ran until the day before the new floating bridge opened in 1940.

Car ferry service kept going to Kirkland through World War II, mostly to get shipyard workers to Houghton. The last of the lake’s passenger steamers, the Ariel, which served the Points Communities and Houghton, retired in 1945.

The early steamers were lovely to look at, but like wooden steamboats everywhere, they often had short lifespans. Fires, exploding boilers, rot and sinking were the fate of nearly all of the lake’s small ferries. When Captain John Anderson began to buy up the ferries on the lake he brought some order to the chaos, but also took some of the fun and romance out of it. 

About once a decade we get another study of returning ferry service to Lake Washington. The economics have always been a challenge, and the slow speed limit in the ship canal makes for a long trip to Lake Union. A new service from Renton is now in the offing.

But Lake Washington is still full of passenger boats doing what those early steamers all did for extra money: sightseeing excursions on the most beautiful urban lake in America.

 

Our Mission To steward Eastside history by actively collecting, preserving, and interpreting documents and artifacts, and by promoting public involvement in and appreciation of this heritage through educational programming and community outreach.

Our Vision To be the leading organization that enhances community identity through the preservation and stewardship of the Eastside’s history.


Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture

Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture

Unlock the Past, Build the Future

2018 was a momentous year!

EHC 5-Photo Logo copy.jpg


· McDowell House Renovation: We celebrated the centennial of the McDowell House, home to our programming and administrative offices, following a four month renovation. We can now hold monthly programs on-site for the first time in over a decade. 

 

· 2018 Bellevue Strawberry Festival: We hosted the 15th annual Strawberry Festival to celebrate Bellevue's agricultural heritage. More than 60,000 people attended.

        

· Caring For Our Collection: In the final months of 2016, EHC secured a new storage facility for its archives in Bellevue, and in 2017 completed an inventory of EHC’s entire 60,000+ piece artifact collection with the assistance of two University of Washington Museology graduate students.  

 

· Educational Programming: Continued partnerships provide educational heritage programming for students in the Lake Washington and Bellevue School District. EHC interprets the historic 1888 Fraser Cabin at Kelsey Creek Farm, leads guided Early Bellevue Walking Tours, and at puts on our signature event the Bellevue Strawberry Festival.

 

· Hands-on History Programming: We partnered with the Pacific Science Center to launch a new spring and summer program series focused on the cultural uses of the Mercer Slough from the Duwamish to the present.

 

· Heritage Preservation: EHC, with the City of Bellevue Department of Parks and Community Services developed language to interpret the American Whaling Company’s whaling station located on Meydenbauer Bay. The whaling station and accompanying interpretation will serve as a new focal point for community engagement at the new Meydenbauer Beach Park, soon to open. 

 

· Heritage Online: EHC launched a new website. The website makes it easier than ever to see what events are coming up in the Eastside world of history and heritage. Our website also links to our online photo archive and other useful local history resources. You can make research requests through the website as well. 

 

Make your donation go twice as far!

 

 This year a supporter has offered to generously match the first $2000 donated to Eastside Heritage Center. 

 

Here are some examples of how your tax-deductible donation will provide crucial support:

 

$75 supports the preservation of a large 25'x10' canvas business directory that hung from the side of a large building on the road way between Kirkland and Bothell in 1937.

 

$120 funds the digitization of the business ledger from The Valley Hotel in Redmond that mainly served Loggers and the personal activities of the owner W.E. Sikes from 1881-1891.

 

$500 enables EHC to provide three free guided historic waking tour programs to the public.

 

$750 funds the digitization of one year of The Lake Washington Reflector, Bellevue’s first local newspaper, making it more accessible for researchers and prolonging the life of the physical items.

 

$1,500 supports EHC’s intern program, by funding a six month stipend for one student intern.

 

$20,000 allows EHC to display a never-before-seen Japanese war-time collection, which was given to EHC through the generous donation of a local Clyde Hill family.



$25,000 funds EHC’s annual collection storage cost.

 

Please consider making a financial contribution or annual pledge to Eastside Heritage Center this year, directly benefiting the very tangible pieces of community history that are in our care.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mike Johnson                                     Betina Finley

Board President                                 Board Vice President