Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal is dedicated on January 10, 1914.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/28/2012
  • Essay 10020
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On January 10, 1914, the Port of Seattle's new fishing fleet dock on Salmon Bay is dedicated in an elaborate celebration featuring band performances, singing, lunch, speeches, and a parade of fishing boats. The facility, which will soon become known as Fishermen's Terminal, is one of the first projects for the Port, which was formed less than three years earlier. The Port developed the new, central home for the region's scattered fishing fleet at the request of the Puget Sound Purse Seine Fishermen's Association, who sought adequate storage and repair facilities at reasonable rates. When dedicated, the terminal includes more than 1,800 feet of moorage accommodating 100 boats, a two-story warehouse for nets and equipment, storage ways, and a marine railway. It will expand over the years, becoming home to the North Pacific Fishing Fleet and a key component of the commercial fishing industry that, even after declines, continues in 2012 to be an important part of the regional economy.

The Port of Seattle, Washington's first public port district, was created in 1911 to build and operate publicly owned harbor facilities. Because large railroad corporations -- whose dominance of the harbor was a major motivating factor behind creation of the Port -- controlled most of the city's central waterfront, the new Port's commissioners focused their attention on largely undeveloped land near what were then the fringes of the developed waterfront. Their "comprehensive scheme of harbor improvement" (required by the Port District Act) proposed piers and docks on the East Waterway south of downtown, at the foot of Bell Street (then well north of the downtown business district), at Smith Cove north of downtown at the south end of the low Interbay area between the Queen Anne and Magnolia hills -- and at the north end of Interbay, on the south side of Salmon Bay across from Ballard.

Snug Harbor

Voters approved the comprehensive scheme, and bond issues to fund the facilities, in March 1912. That December, even before any bonds were sold, the Port issued its first construction contracts, for work on the East Waterway and for dredging and construction at Salmon Bay. On February 15, 1913, a pile driver began work on the Salmon Bay dock -- the first construction in Port of Seattle history.

Initially the Port commissioners had envisioned Salmon Bay as a general moorage facility, but by the time work began, the plan was to make what the Port's first annual report called the "snug harbor" there a home for the Puget Sound fishing fleet (Sutherland). At the time, the several hundred purse seiners and other small vessels that fished the waters from Puget Sound to Alaska had no homeport, and were scattered at whatever moorage they could find, and afford, around the sound. The Puget Sound Purse Seine Fishermen's Association, which represented the fishing boat operators, many of them Norwegian immigrants, pushed for a centralized public moorage that would have the storage, repair, and other facilities they needed, and that would not leave them at the mercy of rates charged by private moorage owners. The idea of building the fishing fleet dock at Salmon Bay is credited to Miller Freeman (1875-1955), a publisher and fisheries advocate who founded Pacific Fisherman magazine (and whose son and grandson, Kemper Freeman Sr. and Jr., became major developers in Bellevue).

As initially built, the snug harbor for the fishing fleet consisted of a wide slip, flanked by twin wharves, whose 1,820 feet of eight-foot-wide cedar log floats provided moorage for 100 boats. To create dry uplands in the former tidal swamp, fill was placed behind timber bulkheads to raise the surface 12 feet above the existing high tide line, which would keep the terminal area four feet above the water line after the Ship Canal Locks, then under construction, raised the level of Salmon Bay. Dredging the swamp's "blue clay muck" was a slow process that took all of 1913 to complete (Sutherland).

In addition to moorage, the Port constructed a two-story warehouse with space to store nets and other gear, as well as offices, locker rooms, and a "Fishermen's Headquarters." The terminal also included dry storage ways where fishermen could repair and overhaul boats, and a marine railway to haul the boats into the ways. Everything was ready by early 1914, and even before the formal dedication a reporter noted that the wharves were in use: "Already there are long avenues of fishing craft tied to the sheltered moorings ... ("Fishermen Use ..."). Those boats came not just from Seattle, but from all around Puget Sound -- five named boats from Tacoma were reported as joining the Seattle-based fleet to take advantage of the new dock.

Gala Celebration

The Puget Sound Purse Seine Fishermen's Association sponsored and organized the gala dedication celebration held on January 10, 1914. Fishing boats from cities around the sound, including Tacoma, Everett, Bellingham, Anacortes, and Olympia, and from as far afield as Alaska, joined with the Seattle fleet to parade through Salmon Bay to the terminal. Tacoma alone sent 35 gas-powered vessels "bedecked in American flags and fir trees," which "did a serpentine parade about the [Tacoma] harbor" before sailing to Salmon Bay ("Fleet of Gas Boats ..."). Bands serenaded the Tacoma boats as they left their port, and played as the combined fleet sailed, flags waving, into the Salmon Bay moorage.

Once the boats moored, there was a luncheon, more music (by Cavanaugh's Band and the Norwegian Singing Society), and speeches by an array of dignitaries. The program included Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919); Seattle Mayor, former legislator, and future Port Commissioner George Cotterill (1865-1958), who had authored and advocated for the Port District Act; and Port Commission Chairman Hiram M. Chittenden (1858-1917), who officially dedicated the terminal. Chittenden's speech, which one authority (Sutherland) states was read to the crowd by H. J. Hemen of the Salmon Bay Improvement Committee, declared:

"To organize and solidify the scattered fishing industry of the Northwest, to provide a home for the extensive fishing fleet, to give such aid as the Port rightfully should give in protecting the fisherman in marketing his hard-earned products -- this surely is an ambition worthy of the most earnest efforts of the Port Commission" (Vinluan and Eskenazi).

On dedication day, the sign on the wharf building read "Port of Seattle Fishermen's Headquarters," but the facility soon became known as Fishermen's Terminal. Over the next 98 years, the Port expanded and improved Fishermen's Terminal, which became headquarters for the North Pacific Fishing Fleet and the center of a major regional industry. Even as commercial fishing has declined in recent years and the future of Fishermen's Terminal has become the subject of sometimes-bitter controversy, the fishing fleet based there continues to be a major contributor to the regional economy. According to the Port's most recent economic impact study (from 2007), boats based at Fishermen's Terminal generated nearly 3,500 jobs that paid a total of more than $350 million in wages, produced $179 million in business revenue, purchased nearly $43 million in goods locally, and paid more than $32 million in state and local taxes.


"Officials of Purse Seiners' Association and Man who Originated Plan for Fisheries Dock," The Seattle Times, January 8, 1914, p. 18; "Tacoma Boats to Come to Seattle," Ibid.; "Fishermen Use New City Dock," Ibid., January 9, 1914, p. 21; "Where Fleet Will Celebrate," Ibid.; "New Fishermen's Dock At Ballard Dedicated," Ibid., January 10, 1914, p. 8; "Fleet of Gas Boats Hastens to Seattle," Ibid.; Frank Vinluan and Stuart Eskenazi, "Shifting Tide at Terminal: A Storm Is Brewing among Fishermen as the Longtime Home of Seattle's Commercial Fleet Faces Possible Evolution into a Facility That Would Also House Pleasure Boats," Ibid., December 16, 2001, p. A-1; "Invited to Join in Celebration at Docks," New Seattle Chamber of Commerce Record, January 1, 1914, p. 7; Sam L. Sutherland, "Fishermen's Terminal: Million-Dollar Industry," in Magnolia: Memories and Milestones ed. by Whitney Mason (Seattle: Magnolia Community Club, 2000), 99-103; Kit Oldham, Peter Blecha, and the HistoryLink Staff, Rising Tides and Tailwinds: The Story of the Port of Seattle, 1911-2011 (Seattle: Port of Seattle, 2011), 27-31, 58; Walt Woodward, "Port of Seattle History -- Draft 1," unpublished manuscript, Port of Seattle files, Seattle, Washington; "Miller Freeman," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website accessed January 10, 2012 (; "Fishermen's Terminal," Port of Seattle Centennial website accessed January 27, 2012 (

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