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

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Monday, August 26, 2019



Researched and written by Eleanor Boba


Seattle’s Lake Union has served for more than a century and a half as a home for maritime industries, floating homes, and water-based recreation. It has also been a transportation hub for everything from portaged canoes to historic sailing ships to float planes.
In 1970, nearly a half century ago, a photographer traveled Seattle’s inland waterways from the Ship Canal to Lake Washington. We do not know who this individual was; the effort may have had something to do with the Corps of Engineers’ work building trails along the route of the Ship Canal. The images, in the care of the Friends of the Ballard Locks, provide a somewhat rare waterside view of the structures along the shorelines. Today we offer a selection featuring a look at Lake Union on October 13, 1970.

Catalog #011.126
The Vic Franck boat works built and repaired wooden boats for decades at the north end of Lake Union. Established in 1927 by Victor Arthur Franck, the business remained in the hands of the Franck family until the death of son Vic Franck in 2005. Some famous boats built here include the Tatoosh, an 80-foot sailboat owned by actor Peter Fonda and the 104-foot yacht Kakki M., later named the Dorothea.

Catalog #011.128
Lake Union has served as a graveyard for ships in more than one way. For many years following World War I, the unwanted hulks of the nation’s Emergency Fleet Corporation lay dormant in the middle of the lake. Many wrecks, including a navy patrol craft, a minesweeper, and at least one automobile, lie at the lake’s bottom. Despite the busy industrial nature of the lake, wrecked and abandoned vessels have been a fairly common sight for decades. In this photo, the cannery tug Alitak lies bow up.

Catalog #011.130
Our catalog lists these homes as “Copeland houseboats.” The Copeland brothers, Gerry and Grant, designed the floating home community on Portage Bay, which later became the Portage-At-Bay cooperative in the late-1960s. Portage Bay is the body of water connecting Lake Union to the Montlake Cut.

Catalog #011.134
Some more of the lake’s many floating homes, with Union Harbor Condos behind at 2301 Fairview East.

Catalog #011.137
Many a tug made its way through the Ship Canal to Pioneer Sand & Gravel Company on Lake Union’s east shore. The products the company shipped in from its gravel pit in Steilacoom and elsewhere were much in demand for the city’s building boom. The bunkers were located at 901 Fairview Avenue North, approximately where Duke’s Chowder House is located today.

Catalog #011.139
The west side of Lake Union with Queen Anne Hill as a backdrop. The AGC (Associated General Contractors) building dominates the skyline. A seaplane skims the waters. The office building, at that time known as the Northwest Construction Center, is still under construction in the photo.

Catalog #011.140
Like the AGC building, the Lake Union Building, still under construction here, was built on pilings over the water. When complete, it offered seven stories of commercial space and its own marina.

Catalog #011.143
The Lake Union Elks Club was easily spotted from the water by the enormous word ELKS atop the building. Although the Seattle Elks (Lodge No. 92) left the building in the mid-1990s, the structure still stands and houses the China Harbor restaurant.

Catalog #011.144
The famed Seattle Gas Works were a going concern from 1907 until 1956. In 1975, five years after this photo was snapped, the abandoned and highly-polluted site was turned into an innovative park.

Catalog #011.150
The old Naval Reserve Building, now the Museum of History and Industry. MOHAI officially opened at this location in 2012. The reserve building, or Armory, was designed by renowned architects B. Marcus Priteca and William R. Grant and dedicated on July 4, 1942, as the United States ramped up its involvement in World War II. In 1998 the Navy abandoned its interest in the building and its future was precarious until the MOHAI deal was struck. Today the structure anchors the newly developed Lake Union Park. Heritage ships are berthed at the wharf just out of frame at left. The Center for Wooden Boats occupies a series of waterways to the east of the building. The smokestacks of the city’s former Lake Union Steam Plant, now a biotech company, can be seen in the background at left. The structure at right has been demolished.

Catalog #011.151
Our last image shows a barge loaded with pre-fabricated housing units headed to Alaska. 

All images are used courtesy of  the U.S Army Corps of Engineers 


Monday, July 15, 2019

Albert and Emil Abrahamson

Recently, an old family photo was discovered which shows two brothers along with their work crew, standing in front of what was called the "Brigger House". Owned by the Brigger family, it was subsequently moved to it's present location, and is today identified as the Lockspot, situated just outside the gates of the Chittenden Locks. The photo predates the opening of the locks, and so would have been taken in the early to mid 1910's.

More than a century later, descendants of Albert Abrahamson, visited the site and celebrated the occasion with a family photo. If you look closely, you will notice the family resemblance in the folded arm pose, which is apparently a family trait which has been handed down through many generations.

Peter Burg, in the blue jacket is Albert Abrahamson's great grandson. He found the original photo above, and provided a lineup of the personnel in the recent photo.

In the picture from left to right:
Jeslyn Burg, Isabella Lee, Michelle Lee, Leslie Burg, Danielle Yahn, Pete Burg, Piper Yahn, Nicholas Lee, Elisabeth Lee, Christopher Burg
From Pete Burg's email: "So I would be the great grandson of Al. My children; Christopher, Danielle and Michelle would be his great great.  Danielle and Michelle's children, Piper, Nicholas, Elisabeth and Isabella would be his great great great.  Leslie is my wife and Jeslyn is Chris's wife. Michelle (Lee) family lives in North Bend WA.  All others live in Colorado.   Our picture was taken on 05/16/19 by Michelle's husband Brian Lee.  I tried to stage the picture so I would be in Al's spot and Chris would be in Emil's spot"..

We recently met with Emil's descendents, and they also provided some additional information. Emil was included in Seattle's 1910 census, with a Ballard address and listed his occupation as dredging. It would seem likely that he, and probably his brother, worked for a dredging company, for the completion of the ship canal. We found a few photos in the collection of dredging occurring before the locks were opened and will add them here.

Dredge near lower end of Lock before railroad bridge was constructed. Showing line of proposed GNRR bridge.

25 Dec 1911
Erickson Construction Co"s dipper dredge at work on channel between Puget Sound ad Shishole Bay

25 Jan 1917
Dredging before cofferdam

Feb 1911
If anyone else has family photos related to the locks and can offer them for posting, please contact us.

Photo of Abrahamson brothers with crew, property of Pete Burg and used with permission.
Recent family photo was taken on 05/16/19 by Michelle's husband Brian Lee.
All other photos are property of US Army Corps of Engineers, and used with permission.

Monday, May 20, 2019

2019 free summer concert
series at the Locks


1    Boeing Employees Concert Band

Saturday, June 1 @ 2:00 p.m.

2    Emerald City Saxophone Quartet

Sunday, June 2 @ 2:00 p.m.

8    Barneleikarringen

Saturday, June 8 @ 2:00 p.m.

9     Highline Community Symphonic Band

Sunday, June 9 @ 2:00 p.m.

15    Musica Molida

Saturday, June 15 @ 2:00 p.m.

16   Mustangs Northwest at the Locks

Sunday, June 16 @ 2:00 p.m.

16    Elliott Bay Pipe Band

Sunday, June 16 @ 2:00 p.m.

19    Clayton Productions

Wednesday, June 19 @ 12:00 p.m.

22    Eastside Modern Jazz

Saturday, June 22 @ 2:00 p.m.

23    Cascadia Big Band

Sunday, June 23 @ 2:00 p.m.

29    Greenwood Concert Band

Saturday, June 29 @ 2:00 p.m.

30    85th Street Big Band

Sunday, June 30 @ 2:00 p.m.

Monday, March 18, 2019


Researched and written by Eleanor Boba

We described once before some aspects of the storied career of the W.T. Preston, the snagboat that served the Corps of Engineers and the people of Puget Sound for more than half a century, 1929-1981. We are fortunate to have access to a series of oral histories conducted by Pam Negri in 1981 and 1982 with officers and crewmembers of the vessel. The oral history project was commissioned by the Corps of Engineers, Seattle District.

The W.T. Preston, with its sternwheel kicking up a wake, July 14, 1959. The Preston was home-berthed at the Ballard Locks. Photographer, Dietz.

Today we’re focusing on the care and feeding of the crew. The Preston served as home away from home for its crew of 12 to 14 men. Keeping these men fed and happy was a challenging job requiring creativity, flexibility, and good management and budgeting skills, a job that fell entirely to the cook and assistant cook.

Lee Fox slices roast beef while Gary Hunter stands by, July 14, 1959. Photographer, Dietz

Early Days

Many of the men on the Preston rose up through the ranks. Captain Norman A. Hamburg started out as cabin boy. He recalled the difficulty of obtaining and keeping fresh produce onboard in the early days.

“In the summer time, it was quite interesting because where we pulled up to the bank there, the farmers always had a liking to the snag boat. They would bring down the fresh vegetables and corn and invite the crew to come up and pick strawberries, raspberries, cherries or whatever was available in the summertime. Another thing we always cherished was fresh milk. We had no refrigeration onboard at that time. The cook would get enough supplies to last a week, then we had an ice box and we’d get about 12 quarts of milk- had to use that up pretty fast, because the ice didn’t last very long in the icebox. So, those 12 quarts would go pretty quick. When we stopped there, the farmers knew our conditions and they used to bring down a gallon of milk and we really cherished that- to have in our cereal in the mornings”. (Hamburg, tape 10)

The Preston went into service for the Engineering Department (Corps of Engineers) in 1929, on the cusp of the Great Depression. Captain Hamburg commented on those tough times:

“The cook had to take and put everything under a lock and key. We had a vegetable locker outside that acted as a cooler. Every evening, he would have to bring his lettuce, tomatoes, and things like that in because, during the depression, there was a lot of people out of work and we had a lot of things that would be stolen if it wasn’t brought in- laying in the docks in Seattle. There were people just coming aboard looking for a hand-out all the time.” (Ibid.)

Cook Eddie J. Padden in the galley, surrounded by the tools of his trade. September 19, 1967.


While Captain Hamburg remembered the days before refrigeration, Jon Lynch, the last cook on the Preston, boasted of having two refrigerators and a large freezer, as well as a “walk-in refrigerator that’s no longer being used as refrigerator because the insulation wore out some years ago. So, I just use it as a store room now.” (Lynch, tape 5A)

Lynch was also proud of his top-of-the-line Kitchen Aide dishwasher. It seems the previous dishwasher, bought cheap, had lasted only about a year: “The door was sprung somehow, and I’m not sure but I think that someone tried to sleep in there once. After that it was a piece of junk…Some of these evenings get pretty rowdy.” (ibid.)

By contrast, Lynch cooked on an ancient oil-burning range that had to be started up each morning by one of the firemen on board. Someone told him the range dated from 1893 which, if true, might mean it was inherited from the original Puget Sound snagboat, the Skagit. Such a stove provided radiant heat, but did not offer much in the way of temperature control. Lynch noted that the oven temperature would quickly rise to about 600 degrees.

No Okra!

Or turnips, or rutabaga. Other than that, Cook Lynch found that the boys would eat just about anything he planned: “Meat, potatoes, salad, vegetables, gravy, sauces, soups. Pretty much whatever you would have at home, only more so.” (Ibid.)

Rough Weather

Lynch recalled one particularly rough crossing.

“Once, when we went to Port Townsend about six or seven years ago. It became really rough. This boat does not take any kind of weather at all, and it was rough. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys were seasick. It was really surprising how much this boat took. And it was really difficult to work on the stove. Everything [was] sliding back and forth. We don’t have any guardrails on board that stove. So, it was interesting, holding everything on there without having anything fall to the deck. It was really interesting, but I managed it.” (ibid.)

The Preston was designed for work on inland rivers and waterways. In the latter part of her career she was more frequently called upon to work in open water. This was one reason the boat was retired.

Place settings

The cook or cooks (there were usually two) were responsible for getting meals on time to all officers and crew, and this did not happen in one place. Officers were served in the wardroom, adjacent to the galley, while the rest of the crew ate “down below.” Food could be lowered down via a dumbwaiter in the galley. The cooks had to set up and serve food in both locations. If the captain chose to remain at his post at the wheelhouse, his meal would need to be sent up to him, an additional chore. Sandy Welsh, the last skipper of the Preston recalled these times: “It didn't bother me to eat up here. I know there were a few times when the cooks would get upset because they would have to prepare the meal and bring it up here, but that was part of their job, just like it's my job to run the vessel.” (Welsh, tape 25)

Noon meal in the wardroom, the officers’ mess. Left to right: William W. Morgan, 2nd Mate; Norman O. Ronning, 1st Mate; Captain Norman A. Hamburg; Elbert D. Becker, Acting Chief Engineer. September 19, 1967.

“Everybody’s favorite cook”

Fritz Rydberg’s name comes up often when researching the Preston. Rydberg served on the snagboats for forty years, most of that time as cook aboard the Preston. Easily recognizable in photos by his stature, he was often called “Little Fritz.” According to Captain Norman Ronning, Fritz was everybody’s favorite cook: “He was very dedicated. Took his job very seriously, and always wanted to please everybody that he could. He really done a good job.” (Ronning, tape 14)

Rydberg received a number of awards for service during his career. At his retirement party on April 7, 1952, he was given a radio equipped with a short-wave band “so he can listen in on ship talk when he gets tired of landlubber programs [as well as] a diamond-studded lapel pin with the emblem of the Corps of Engineers.” (Seattle Daily Times, April 8, 1952). He also received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award. The Anacortes Museum and Maritime Heritage Center preserves a number of photos of Rydberg, along with his prized recipe box complete with recipes. According to the museum, Rydberg was known for his large, hard sugar cookies, which crewmembers would sometimes toss to children along the shore. Rydberg passed away in 1969 at the age of 76.

Fritz Rydberg at the ancient oil-fired range and oven. This photo, taken on the day of his retirement party and appearing in the Seattle Daily Times the next day, was probably staged for the cameras. No food in the skillet!

Fritz Rydberg is honored on the occasion of his retirement from the snagboat service. He is presented with a short-wave radio, April 7, 1952.

The End of the Game: Surf and Turf

Prior to the official retirement of the Preston in 1981, the officers and crew commiserated with one last meal together. Jon Lynch described the lunch to Pam Negri:

“Well, we had a bottle of booze, we had expensive steak, and we had 8 oz. lobster tail imported from Maine. The steak was 10 oz. each…I imagine those people down at the office were slightly stunned to see $99.28 for lobster. That was for 12 of them [in 1981]. Then, one bottle of booze does not go around this table with anything left over. That was it, one small drink apiece to say Bon Voyage. That was all, that was the end of the game.” (Lynch, ibid.)

All oral histories referenced are in the custody of the Anacortes Museum and Maritime Heritage Center (as is the Preston, herself); all photos are held in the Corps of Engineers collection, in the care of Friends of the Ballard Locks.

And here's a link to some of the history of the Puget Sound snagboats, referred to earlier.

Link to earlier article on Puget Sound Snagboats