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

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Ships Annual Visit at the Locks

Head down to the Locks on Wednesday December 7th around 8 p.m. to see the annual parade of Christmas ships. The Dickens Carolers will be the featured musical group on the lead ship.

The parade is scheduled to leave Shilshole Marina at 7 p.m., be at the Locks from 8:10-8:30, stop at Golden Gardens Park from 9:05-9:25, and return to Shilshole at 9:45.

The gates at the Locks will remain open as usual until 9:00 p.m.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ballard Locks Closed Tuesday August 23, 2011

Both locks will be closed to boat traffic August 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for regular inspection of the salmon exclusion structure.

Also posted by @ChittendenLocks and MyBallard.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

100 Years Ago This Month: Major Cavanaugh Begins Work in Seattle

August 1, 1911 – Major James Bates Cavanaugh is assigned to the Corps of Engineers Seattle District to oversee the construction of the locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

It was Maj. Hiram M. Chittenden whose vision and political skills resulted in the placement of the locks at Salmon Bay, however he had to take early medical retirement in 1909. Major C.W. Kutz served as head of the Seattle District until Cavanaugh was appointed in 1911.

James Bates Cavanaugh's West Point Graduation photo, Class of 1892.

Major Cavanaugh was then working in Washington D.C. as Assistant to the Chief of Engineers. He had graduated first in his class from West Point Military Academy (1892) and was an extremely capable and well-respected officer. He had worked on many river and harbor projects around the country, as well as teaching Field Engineering at the Post School for Officers. He was selected for the Seattle assignment, not only for his technical experience, but his proven diplomatic skills that were needed to complete this enormous engineering project.

In March 1915 he was promoted to Lt. Colonel; then in April 1917, with the United States now involved in World War I, he was assigned to command the 18th Engineers at American Lake, WA (now Joint Base Lewis/McChord) and promoted to Colonel prior to sailing for France in July 1917. Cavanaugh House is named in his honor.

Information for this article was gathered from the U.S.Military Academy/West Point and the Seattle District Army Corps of Engineers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Audio Tour of the Locks

The US Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District enters the podcasting world with this audio tour of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Look for more audio tours from the district in the future.

US Army Corps of Engineers Audio Tour of the Locks
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages and operates 192 navigational lock sites home to 237 lock chambers across the nation. The Northwestern Division has 10 of those lock chambers. Each year more than 40,000 vessels pass through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in the Seattle District. Come and experience a tour with our audio podcast. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salmon Season!

Head on over to the Chittenden Locks to see the sockeye salmon (link to our past article) moving through the fish ladder. The run is now at its peak, about 23,000 fish have passed through as of 7/5/11.
Some early chinook salmon have been spotted so if you see a larger fish with spots on its back in the viewing window, you are seeing a chinook (sockeye have no spots.) The chinook run will peak early August and then will come the coho salmon, the last of the 3 salmon species that use our fish ladder.
Don't forget the weekend concerts on the lawn- every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Info: Locks Closure Tuesday June 7th 2011

Both locks will be closed from 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM on Tuesday, June 7th for inspection of ASES (the Adult Salmon Exclusion Structure).

Reprinted with permission for information purposes:

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
5 1/2 Hour Lock Closure, June 7th 2011

On Tuesday, June 7th 2011, both the large lock and small lock will be closed from 0730-1300, for an inspection of the Adult Salmon Exclusion Structure. The structure is in place near the middle pier between the east entrances to both locks. There will be divers in the water during this time period, preventing lock operations. The only exception will be for emergency vessels (Seattle Fire Dept., Seattle Police, and Coast Guard) on an emergency call. Any questions should be referred to David Carpenter, Navigation Supervisor 206-789-2622 ext.202, or the Lockmaster on duty, 206-783- 7000

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Fish Ladder Cleaning Finishing Up This Week

The fish ladder has been undergoing its normal yearly maintenance from May 16 - 27 and will be reopening this Friday.

Check out the pics from the slideshow below or last year's Fish Ladder Spring Cleaning blog post!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

House on the Hill at the Locks: Cavanaugh House

Did you ever wonder who lives in the white house on the hill in the garden at the Chittenden Locks?

Photo 1: Cavanaugh House upon completion in 1913

Cavanaugh House, named for Col. James Bates Cavanaugh, the engineer in charge of locks construction from 1911 to 1917, is home to the Army Corps of Engineer’s Chief Engineer during their 3-year tenure with the Seattle District.

Photo 2: Cavanaugh’s signature on house blueprints; every drawing and blueprint for the locks was hand drawn and bears Cavanaugh’s signature of approval.

Completed in 1913 for a total cost of $7,840, it was one of the first concrete homes built in Seattle. There is no specific architect named on the drawings, but it is a modest, symmetric design common to the era. Amazingly, it was completed within 75 days of the construction contract being signed. Originally it was intended to be the home for the Locks’ electrician so they would be close at hand if a fuse blew any time day or night. However most electricians already lived nearby and chose to stay in their own homes. The house went unoccupied for long periods of time and fell into disrepair.

In 1966 it was proposed that the house be renovated to become the official residence of the Chief Engineer/Seattle District. Upon completion of the remodel it was dedicated as Cavanaugh House on January 16, 1967 and a permanent plaque installed December 10, 1974.

Photo 3: By February of 1915, the lock walls are formed, smoke from the sawmills around Salmon Bay hovers in the background.

Photo 4: Note the construction progress in October 1915, the lower cofferdam has been removed and the north terraces have been graded.

As the first completed structure of the huge Lake Washington Ship Canal project, early photos show the house standing isolated among the chaos of locks construction. Gradually it was surrounded by the locks structures and as Carl S. English, Jr. developed the gardens it became part of the landscape. While situated in a public garden, Cavanaugh House is a private home and is closed to the public.

Photo 5: This photo ca. 1920 taken from the south side of the administration building shows the house standing proudly on the hill.

Photo 6: In this photo ca. 1950 we see the handiwork of Carl English Jr.

Photo 7: Cavanaugh House today.

The name Hiram Chittenden is familiar to the local populace but James B. Cavanaugh is lesser known. Both men were extraordinary engineers who made valuable contributions to our city and our country. Check the previous blog article about Chittenden and stay tuned for more about Colonel Cavanaugh coming soon.

Information for this article was sourced from USACE Publication “Engin-Ears”, August 1979

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Steelhead at the Locks (or not.)

Onchorynchus mykiss is a mouthful in more ways than one. It is tricky to say, and it tastes delicious! It’s also a fish that is very rarely seen in the viewing window of the fish ladder. At one time there were two to three thousand steelhead migrating through the Chittenden Locks in winter. Nowadays you are quite lucky to see just one!

What are Steelhead?

Steelhead are a type of Pacific salmon. Like other Pacific salmon, they rear in fresh water until they become smolts, then migrate to the ocean. This stage can last anywhere from about one to four years.

Once in the ocean, they can travel thousands of miles; they keep getting larger as they find larger food sources, usually in colder waters. This stage can also last from one to four years. Upon returning to their native streams, they will deposit eggs. Unlike their cousins the Coho, Chinook, Sockeye, Chum, and Pink salmons, the Steelhead are not always destined to die after they spawn; they may return to the ocean several times in their lives. In that way they are more similar to their distant cousins the Atlantic salmon. Steelhead are quite difficult to track, but some have been tagged and are known to have traveled all the way from the Columbia River basin to the Sea of Japan and back, in their lifetime.

If an Onchorynchus mykiss spends its entire life in fresh water, it is called a Rainbow Trout. They are the same species, but have differing lifestyles. Steelhead normally weigh about 8-11 pounds, but can get as hefty as 40 pounds or more. They are quite silvery in color, with many spots on all parts of their bodies, and a reddish or rainbow hue along their sides.

The run of Steelhead that came through the locks was a winter run and was therefore fully mature when they returned upstream. Summer runs come back younger and stay in the rivers until they mature.

So, What Happened to the Steelhead at the Locks?

The numbers of Steelhead have gone from about 2600 in 1983 to less than 10 in more recent years. It is difficult to get any numbers after 2008, when four fish were counted in the rivers that feed into Lake Washington. At that time only two redds were found; a redd is a nest with eggs in it.

The numbers of these fish in the Lake Washington system are so low that they seem to be on the verge of extinction. With that said, a few are seen every year and there are probably some that pass through without being seen or identified at all.

There are many factors that have contributed to their decline, such as destruction of habitat, pollution, man-made obstacles such as dams, ocean conditions and over-harvesting. It is also possible that some have decided to remain in fresh water and essentially convert to their Rainbow Trout mode. We also know that Steelhead prefer a fast, cold river to breed and rear in. Unfortunately, the water above the Locks is warmer than it was at one time, due to the urbanization of the environment.

Of all the factors have affected the Steelhead, none is as obvious and dramatic as the yearly visitation of the California sea lions. The most famous of these hungry predators was called Herschel. He arrived in 1983 and discovered that steelhead were pretty easy pickings at the Locks. That was when the steelhead run first began to decline.

Herschel, and other large male sea lions voraciously ate over half of the returning steelhead that returned to the locks for several years in a row. Although there were often as many as 40 or more sea lions in the area, it was observed that most of the devastation was usually caused by two or three of the largest ones.

While the steelhead counts have continued to decline, the sea lion counts have been growing. In 1972 the Marine Mammal Protection Act was first enacted. Since that protection was put in place, the number of California sea lions increased from around 50,000 to around 250,000. Each year shows a small percentage of increased population growth.

Numerous methods were employed to deter these Pinnipeds, (fin-footed mammals), but nothing was very effective. Some of the techniques used were underwater firecrackers, known as seal bombs; rubber bullets; acoustic harassment devices; nets; and poisoned fish. The sea lions were also trucked several times to other areas as far away as California, but always swam back. At best, these methods slowed the sea lions down, but not for long. Each time, they got wiser and more sure of themselves.

Meanwhile, the steelhead run has not been able to recover. The original run was a wild run; at one point a hatchery run was introduced with the hope of enhancing the numbers. Unfortunately, they competed with the wild fish instead.

There is no easy answer to this steelhead situation. What will become of the once wild steelhead run in Lake Washington? If a run still exists will it ever grow? Perhaps, we will have to go elsewhere to celebrate this beautiful fish, our state fish.

Article written for FoBL Blog by Stacey Gilbert

Information for this article was sourced from:

“Stock Report-Lake Washington Winter Steelhead.” 2009. 01 February, 2011.

Guterson, David. ”This Seal Doesn’t Have Everyone’s Approval.” 1990. 23 January 2011.

“Steelhead.” 2008. 05 January, 2011.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow on the Water

Seattleites readily remember the snow storm that paralyzed the city last November, resulting in power outages, freeway gridlock, buses sideways in the streets, people stranded.

Guess what? History repeats itself. Ninety-five years ago...

January 31, 1916 started out like any other cold, damp winter day in the city. Then mid-morning it started to snow; it kept coming down all day and on into the night. The storm continued steadily for 2 days: schools were closed, streetcar service was shut down and a snow slide closed the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Stampede Tunnel halting service across the Cascades.

Early afternoon on February 2 the wet snow was so deep it collapsed the roof of the West Seattle Christian Church, and several hours later the dome of St. James Cathedral crashed down under the weight of the heavy snow. The storm left Seattle with 3 feet of snow on the ground.

But over at the government locks in Ballard the workers were focused on something else. The cement work of the large lock was completed and the miter gates installed; it was time to open the valves and admit water in for the very first time. In this photo taken just after noon on Feb. 2, you can see the dark water coming from the filling tunnels, notice the staff on the upstream gate watching as the water pushes into the snow.

There must have been a sense of jubilation and pride that after decades of politics and planning- and 5 years of construction- it worked! Perhaps this group photo was a celebratory one, Chief Engineer Lt. Col. James Cavanaugh and his staff on the steps of the administration building on that momentous day (Cavanaugh is third from right in hat and glasses.) The Corps of Engineers workboat “Swinomish” did a trial lockage the next day, the locks were then used informally until their official dedication on July 4, 1917.

Sources for this article include and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.