Preserving the History of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Wallingford Historic Homes Fair October 6, 2018

Dredging the canal in the Wallingford area in the early 1900's.  Photo: courtesy of  US Army Corps of Engineers

 While the Centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Chittenden Locks were celebrated last year, it's always a good time to remember the history of Seattle and it's various neighborhoods and how they've been altered due to the growth and development of the region. One of those areas, Wallingford, is going to have a festival promoting historic homes and will have exhibitors and other resources available for those interested. The following info was provided by Historic Wallingford.

The Wallingford neighborhood is built on a patchwork of early-day plats through which streetcar lines developed in the early 20th century. Today, the neighborhood is a rich tapestry of residential architecture that reflects Seattle’s heyday of development, and it remains one of the City’s best collections of Craftsman bungalows. Historic Wallingford invites you to learn more about the value and care of these irreplaceable old homes.

Find practical advice, inspiration and historical information regarding the wide array of architecture in Wallingford and Seattle.

Mark your calendars for the Wallingford Historic Homes Fair. Saturday, October 6th from 10-4 at the Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. , Seattle, 98103

At the Wallingford Historic Homes Fair you will find:
  • Exhibitors offering ideas and services to help maintain, update and care for vintage homes.
  • Educational information about the styles of vintage residential architecture, what makes them unique and how to update them respectfully.
  • A showing of the film: “Bungalow Heaven, preservation of a neighborhood” about citizen efforts to honor a neighborhood in Pasadena, California.
  • A discussion on historic preservation through designation and districts.
  • Take in a Virtual Walk through Wallingford and its Architectural Gems with historian, Tom Veith.
  • Ask an Expert tables with a variety of topics, from building loans, using a realtor, masonry repairs, City permit requirements, and more.
  • Hands-on instruction on researching the history of your home on the web.
For more information and to register go to

Historic Wallingford was incorporated in 2017 and launched a program of educational activities intending to promote civic pride and involvement in this historic neighborhood in 2018.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Celebration

Researched and written by Susan Connole

A more austere looking lock site in 1916

 While the locks went into operation in July 1916 much work still needed to be done to complete the planned Lake Washington Ship Canal. But first- a celebration.

Large lock opening Aug. 3 1916

On August 3 the community gathered at the large lock to watch the snag boat Swinomish followed by the survey vessel Orcas, enter the large lock from Salmon Bay to be lowered to Puget Sound, then turn around and return to Salmon Bay. Newspapers recorded the crowd cheering as the boats passed and speeches commemorating the event were given. Col. J.B. Cavanaugh, who oversaw construction, and Judges Roger Greene and Thomas Burke, both long time advocates of the ship canal, were praised for their comments.

It would still be awhile before the dam in Fremont was removed and a channel dredged so vessels could enter Lake Union.

Opening Montlake Cut photo from UW Special Collections

Meanwhile, the Montlake cut was still under construction between Lakes Union and Washington. Then on August 25 the engineers ordered the removal of the cofferdam holding back the water of Lake Union. As workers with shovels began to dig, the first small trickle increased dramatically and nearby onlookers scrambled for higher ground. It took about an hour for the cut to fill, completing another portion of the ship canal.


The last, critical step of the project was the lowering of Lake Washington. So far, the locks and dam have been built, the water of Salmon Bay has been raised from sea level to the level of Lake Union and a channel has been cut from Lake Union up to Lake Washington, but Lake Washington has not yet been connected, it is still about 10 feet higher than Lake Union, held back by a wooden dam.

On August 28 the gates of the dam were opened slightly to begin releasing water into the Montlake cut, it then took several months for the lake to slowly draw down to the level of Lake Union. By late October the water of the lakes and canals were at level but   dredging still needed to be done at both ends of the Montlake cut to create a channel for larger boats to pass through.

An unidentified schooner outbound in 1916

By the end of August 1916, 1,558 vessels had passed through the locks, including 666 tugboat passages, 140 fishing boat passages, and 190 barge passages. Passenger vessels went through 152 times, sightseeing through the locks on the excursion boat Sioux was a popular outing.  Records are still kept today, the lock wall operators tally the small lock and the lock master in the control tower records traffic in the large lock.

First locking crew in 1917

The completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal altered the course of history for Seattle, opening up the fresh water lakes allowed commerce to expand away from the downtown core and expand the city eastward. Today it is not only an important part of the Seattle economy but a major tourist destination.

From the Seattle Times Aug.6 1916 touting the immediate success of the canal and locks operation

All photos are used courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers except where noted.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

102nd Anniversary of Small Lock Opening

Researched and written by Susan Connole

By Spring of 1916 Seattle’s long-dreamed-of ship canal was becoming reality.

Montlake Cut in 1916

While the locks were being constructed at the west end of Salmon Bay a small waterway was kept open along the south shore so boats could continue to move between Puget Sound and the bay. When the large lock was completed in February 1916 the gates were kept open and the tidal water then flowed through the lock so the small shipping channel could be blocked off to build the spillway dam.

May 27, 1916

On July 12, 1916, with the small lock completed, the gates of both locks were closed to stop the flow of water coming down from Lake Union and Salmon Bay began rise.

It took about 3 weeks for the bay to attain the planned level but on July 25 the Engineering Dept. survey boat “Orcas” entered the small lock and became the first vessel to be raised from Puget Sound to the new higher level of Salmon Bay. No longer would boats have to wait for a high tide to use the small shipping channel, the locks allowed them full-time access to Salmon Bay.

"Orcas" entering the small lock. July 25, 1916
"Orcas" raised in small lock. July 25, 1916

 Much dredging still needed to be done to establish shipping channels and construction was progressing on the Fremont and Montlake canals but the locks were in operation. During that first month in 1916 there were 304 lockages in the large lock and 830 lockages in the small lock.

And Seattleites like to party. Next week- the opening celebration and onward to Lake Washington.

Large lock in action 1916.
All photographs are courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Summer Concert Schedule

Here is the upcoming summer concert schedule. A text version will hopefully be added soon.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ballard Locks & Puget Sound Archaeology

Ballard Locks & Puget Sound Archaeology

From comes an invitation to attend a talk by the Suquamish Historic Preservation Officer which should be of great interest to many.  You can use the following link to learn more and register as seating will be limited to 50 people.

Description of the event

"Discover a bit of ancient history connected with the Locks. Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, will address how sea level rise after the most recent Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, likely affected land use practice by the first arrivals to the Puget. Sea levels were a few hundred feet lower when the earliest inhabitants arrived and many things have changed since then. Dennis offers an interesting glimpse into the changes that took place as sea level rise changed both living conditions and food sources."

Be sure to look around on the site to find many other activities and talks of interest to the community.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Name This Boat

Recently we had a request from someone wanting to know the identity of the boat in the 2 photos below. He guessed it might be from the 30's based on the cars visible on the road above. There seems to have been quite a crowd gathered, so was this an occasion? Or perhaps a boat of some distinction which drew the onlookers down to the locks to view it. Unfortunately, due to Seattle's infamously fickle weather, the heavy coats in evidence cannot be taken as an indication of the time of year. It could just as easily be mid July, as a December morning. So all you nautical detectives, weigh anchor and weigh in.

Crowd watching vessel in large lock.

Who might have added the artistic keyhole affect for this photo?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Feb. 2 - Anniversary of the First Filling of the Locks

The large lock was filled for the first time ever. on Feb. 2 1916. There was to be a small celebration to mark the occasion, but as the photos show, a heavy snowstorm put a damper on the occasion. Nevertheless, local dignitaries, and people responsible for this project showed up despite the elements.

At the first filling of the lock.

From the Seattle Times, Feb 3 1916

It took just over a half hour to fill the large lock and credit must be given to the dignitaries who withstood the freezing temperatures for the occasion. Here's some photos from the day we uncovered,

With the dignitaries watching from the far end, the water is seen as it starts to fill the large lock.

Much debris in the lock visible as it fills.

The large lock filled.

Feb 3, the Corps boat Orcas uses the lock.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Snagboats on the Puget Sound - a brief photo history

This article was originally printed on Inside Passage, April 3, 2017. It is a blog maintained by the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. It was researched and written by Eleanor Boba, A link to their site will be added at the end of the article where many other articles of local historical interest may be found.

Snagboats on Puget Sound: A Photo Essay

The snagboat Swinomish in Lake Washington, circa 1916. The lowering of the lake to accommodate the new Ship Canal left many snags exposed. The photo is credited to Asahel Curtis.  Photo, Shoreline Historical Museum, #1249.

Snagboats were a familiar sight on the Ship Canal and on Puget Sound rivers from 1885 to 1981. The snagboats Skagit (1885-1914), Swinomish (1914-1929), and W.T. Preston (1929-1981) were charged with clearing snags and other debris from the region’s waterways. Aside from this primary duty, the snagboats were called to serve in many other ways.

For the full story of the Puget Sound snagboats, read Ron Burke's detailed and beautifully-illustrated article for The Sea Chest -- "Heritage of a Snagboat" (June 2001).
The snagboats Skagit and Swinomish side by side in 1915. Their A-frame cranes sit on the bows. 
Photo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1980 and 1981 Pam Negri conducted a series of oral history interviews for the Corps of Engineers with current and former crew members of the W.T. Preston. The men shared a number of stories detailing both their ordinary duties and some unexpected tasks. (Tapes and transcripts in the care of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center)


In a 1981 interview, Sandy Welsh Jr. explained that the Preston ended up with the whistles of both earlier snagboats, as well as its own:
The two big steam whistles from the Swinomish and the Skagit, they operated together. Mine was, well I call it a whooper, and it was kind of a steam siren. I operated it independently. You could kind of play a little bit of a tune with them both going. We had a lot of fun. There was a couple other steam boats that had whooper sirens on them. We would whoop back and forth.
People really get a thrill out of listening to the steam whistles. You'll go by, like through the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and people will come out of their offices or on the boat next to you and yell, "blow the whistle, blow the whistle.“ I'll always give an extra toot for a thank you for each of the bridges we go through. Most of the time the bridge tenders will give a little toot back in answer. Especially Bill, who works on the Ballard Bridge up there, he says, "how about a real long one with the bridge opening?" So, I'll give him a little bit extra long one because he really likes to hear the steam whistle. It's really funny though. You'll just see the people, and if you can't hear them you'll just see the arms pump up and down. "Blow that whistle!“ (Oral History, Virgil (Sandy) V. Welsh Jr., Second Mate and Caption on the Preston, 1975-81.  From the archives of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center)


Captain William M. Morgan at the helm of the W.T. Preston, 1975. 
Photo, Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.
Captain William W. Morgan told Pam Negri about part of the job that involved burning derelict houseboats:
We used to do quite a bit of work in conjunction with the Seattle Harbor Patrol. They would assist us, either bring in snags or tell us where they were at. Anyway, we were burning a considerable amount of houseboats, and they were the ones that were towing the boats down to Montlake across from the old canoe house at the U.W. There were times when we would have a half-dozen houses. We would burn them right down to the logs, then pick the logs up and set them on the beach.

This one particular time, we used to go in and open the valves or break the water lines so there was no water remaining to cause any possible explosions. We'd gone through this one house and broke a few lines, opened all the valves we could see. Then we set our fire. Well, it was really burning pretty good. The old tar paper roofs-everything was really going strong. Here comes a harbor police boat heading toward the shore-must have been an emergency. We were all standing on our deck, watching this houseboat burn when all of the sudden there's this terrific explosion. Here goes this hot water tank, shooting out across the water, landing right in front of this police boat coming full out towards it. It was pretty funny at the time, but could have been extremely serious.

[The Harbor Patrol] kind of laughed it off. Particularly one of them that I knew quite well, he said, "Wouldn't that look good on the front page of the PI [Post-Intelligencer], Preston torpedoes Seattle police boat with hot water tank." (Oral History, William W. Morgan (Tape 16), Deckhand, First Mate, Second Mate, and Captain 1952-1982. From the archives of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center)


Norman Hamburg began his career as a cabin boy on the Swinomish in 1927 and later transferred to the Preston. In his 1982 interview he told Pam Negri about one little-known aspect of the work:

A lot of times there was a lot of erosion along the [river] banks. The cows would get too close to the edge of the bank eating grass, and sometimes the bank would cave in and down would go the cow in the river. We picked up quite a few cows in the river, set them back down on the bank for the farmer. [How?] Put a rope sling around 'em, just behind their front legs and just ahead of their rear legs, picked 'em right up with the donkey engine and swung them over and set them on the bank. They very seldom hurt themselves; they landed on the soft mud in the river there.  (Oral History, Norman Hamburg (Tape 10), January 15, 1982. From the archives of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center)

Crew of the W.T. Preston, 1939. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 


Hamburg explains the effect of World War II on the snagboat business:

During World War II, when they stopped all river and harbor work, they tied the Preston up at the locks wall. They transferred all the laid-off crew that didn't have 15 years of service in. They found other jobs for them, but what I mean [is] they were laid off the Preston. They kept the captain, the chief engineers, myself and the cook. We stayed aboard the vessel for quarters and helped keep the vessel in shape, and we were transferred over to the locks. The chief engineer and I were transferred over to the machine shop -- working for Charlie Seagren. We were outfitting boats for Alaska and a lot of the boats were going up to [Adak?] Island, building the airbase up there. Also, the Alcan Highway [Alaska-Canadian]: we did a lot of work at the locks for the Alcan Highway making different things in the machine shop and the blacksmith shops. They didn't bring the Preston out until after World War II....but they kept us crew aboard in case some emergency would arise.
I remember when we came to work on December 8th [1941]; it was on a Monday morning. Driving down from Mount Vernon, we were stopped at the main gate going in -- soldiers galore. Went through  our suitcases. They went through our luggage and they walked with us down to the Preston to get verification that we belonged to that crew. Our cook -- little Fritz -- fed about, I'd say, 30 soldiers for the meals on the Preston until they had facilities built and they built barracks down at the locks for these soldiers to stay in because they were on guard there -- on duty 24 hours a day. The barracks at that time were built on a wall just west of the administration building. 
One of the first jobs the snagboat had was to lay a cable across from the small locks over to the south end of the spillway to hang a netted, mesh fence on there to stop anything that could drift down to blow up the spillway. Everything was very vulnerable. They had blackouts for all the sawmills, the homes, the street lights -- everything had to be turned out at dusk and you had dark blinds over your windows in the homes. There was absolutely no light on the west coast at all, until they found out just how vulnerable it was. They were afraid of a Japanese attack on the west coast. 
There were a lot of boats tied up in Lake Washington and Kirkland in the area.....Lake Union....and if something would have happened to the locks there, it would have drained the water out of Lake Union and been a real disaster. (Ibid.)

Coast Guard barracks and mess hall at the locks, August 14, 1943. 
Photo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The last of the Puget Sound snagboats -- W.T. Preston -- was retired in 1981. Such snagging duties that are left on our well-traveled waterways are now carried out by the Puget, a small derrick barge. Two years afterwards, the Preston was acquired by the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center where she may be seen today.

-- Eleanor Boba

The W.T. Preston, with sternwheel, was an impressive sight passing through the locks, February 3, 1972.
Photo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

You can visit the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and find many more articles of local interest here: