Port of Everett is created by a special election held on July 13, 1918.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 5/04/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9407
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On July 13, 1918, citizens form the Port of Everett in hopes of acquiring World War I wartime industry.  A. D. McAdam, C. W. Miley, and Albert Burke are elected as the first port commissioners. Director General of the U.S. Emergency Fleet Charles Schwab visits Everett and promises to build Pacific Coast shipyards and keep them busy. The November 11, 1918, Armistice, however, quickly ends shipbuilding plans.  Everett's earliest shoreline had included a diversity of industries but by the 1920s, the lumber and shingle trade will dominate the economy, giving the city its nickname "Mill Town." Commercial fishing will become an important part of the city's commerce in the 1930s and the Port will work to accommodate the growing fleet. During World War II the Port will build wartime ships and then cope with a return to civilian economy. With the lumber/shingle trade in decline by the 1960s, Everett will embrace the arrival of the Boeing Company and other new industries. Today the deep-draft Port of Everett has the largest marina on the West Coast and handles a variety of cargoes, manages recreational marinas, and owns and manages development projects.      

Early Waterfront Development  

The new Port of Everett inherited nearly two decades of private waterfront development and scuttled plans. Everett’s early 1890s beginnings had been largely financed by East Coast capitalists -- including Charles Colby (1839-96) and John D. Rockefeller  (1839-1937) -- who were convinced by Tacoma lumberman Henry Hewitt  Jr. (1840-1918) of investment opportunities at Port Gardner Bay. The Everett Land Company was formed to manage business operations. They planned a city with a diverse economy that included four major industries: a whaleback bargeworks, a nail factory, a paper mill, and a smelter to refine ores expected to come from the mining town of Monte Cristo.  An ironworks, a shipyard, lumber/shingle mills, and other industries took waterfront locations.  

Crucial to the city’s successful development was rail service. In November 1891 the Seattle-Montana line was completed from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., linking Everett to major cities north and south.  But larger hopes rested in the arrival of the Great Northern Railway which, residents expected, would first reach tidewater at Everett and connect the East and West coasts for shipping, create a worldwide market for Pacific Northwest resources, and expand regional development.    

In January 1893 the Great Northern Railway line was completed to Everett (the first passengers arriving in June) but by that time the Northern Pacific had reached its terminus in Tacoma and the railway connected to Seattle as well, lessening the expected importance of the Everett harbor link. Nevertheless, the Great Northern rail connection came at a crucial time, offering optimism as the city faced the bleak depression years following the Silver Panic of 1893.    

The Harbor Plan and Jetty Island  

Before the end of 1893, the Everett Land Company submitted a plan to the U.S. government to build a freshwater harbor designed by Seattle engineer Major Hiram M. Chittenden (1858-1917). But the national Silver Panic of 1893 stalled the project and it wasn’t until 1895 that government funds were finally approved for work to begin building a training dike. Piles were driven from deep water in Port Gardner Bay to the mouth of the Snohomish River to serve as a break and to protect the channel they proposed to cut. The piles were then filled with dirt and slabs from the city’s sawmills.

But harbor plans were aborted in 1897. The unfinished harbor led to serious silting problems for the Port and over the years the jetty grew into a man-made island composed of river sediment. Now called Jetty Island, it has become home to waterfowl, bald eagles, and migrating sea lions. Jetty Island is maintained as a wildlife habitat and is also open to the public as an educational and recreational resource.

Becoming “Mill Town” 

As the city entered the twentieth century, Everett Land Company holdings were transferred to a new group formed as the Everett Improvement Company, headed by James J. Hill (1838-1916).  Although the Everett Land Company held control over city development, the Improvement Company inherited aborted plans and had to cope with many problems.  The Improvement Company enticed a diverse waterfront economy that now included an iron works, a flour mill, and a shoe factory, as well as a growing number of lumber and shingle mills.

Everett workers were a highly unionized force. The boom and bust cycles typical of the lumber/shingle trade -- as well as dangerous working conditions in the mills -- led to worker strikes and on November 5, 1916, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) traveled to Everett on the steamers Verona and Calista in support of a shingle weavers’ strike. They were met at the city dock by deputized mill men.   Shots were fired and at least seven were killed, two deputies and at least five members of the IWW. The tragedy became known as the Everett Massacre. Changes in mill safety put in place by the U.S. government during World War I eventually led to safer working conditions.

By Port formation in 1918, the city’s economy was dominated by woods products industries including the large mills of Clough-Hartley, Clark-Nickerson, Weyerhaeuser, and Robinson Manufacturing and dozens of small shingle mills. Management was officially in public hands, but most of the city’s waterfront industries were still privately controlled. And in 1920 and 1921, the city once again had to deal with the effects of national depression.  Mills closed then opened again but with decreased output. In 1925, 19 docks were still privately owned as well as Piers 1, 2 and 3.

A lumber boom in the late 1920s gave power to the Port. By special vote, the Jetty and the 14th Street Dock area and land at Preston Point were added to the public holdings.  

Two Everett companies with a long history on the Everett waterfront were Weyerhaeuser and Scott Paper Company. James J. Hill’s Weyerhaeuser connections led the company to establish its first Everett mill on Port Gardner Bay in 1901.  This became the plant’s Mill A site and began Weyerhaeuser’s long relationship with the city.  Over the years the company added Mill B, C and D sites and was a major employer. 

Kimberley-Clark is the current successor to what began as Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company in 1930 (foot of 26th Street) and was sold during the Great Depression to owners who continued the business as Soundview Paper Company. The plant continued into the 1950s as Soundview, then became Scott Paper Corporation.  Kimberly Clark purchased the business in 1990, rebuilt the facility and began operating in 1995. In January of 2011 Kimberly Clark announced that it was selling its Everett mills. A tall building remains that once was a part of Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company

Shipbuilding and the Navy Presence

From its start, Everett’s deep-water harbor encouraged shipbuilding. One of the city’s initial industries, the Pacific Steel Bargeworks, however, was a victim of the 1893 depression and made only one whaleback barge, The City of Everett, before closing its doors. From 1899 to 1905 three firms built ships at waterfront locations -- White Shipyard (south of Pier 1), Everett Shipyard (north of White Shipyard), and Sumner Iron Works (on the Snohomish River).  

During World War I, the Norway-Pacific Construction and Drydock Company began a plant on Port Gardner Bay. Both Pacific Coast and West Coast Shipping also planned wartime plants. The 1918 Armistice ended this development.  During World War II, the Everett Pacific Shipbuilding and Drydock Company was a major presence on Port Gardner Bay and the Port moved some of its operations that had been at the 21st Street location to other points along the waterfront in order to accommodate the large plant. Everett Pacific Shipbuilding operated from 1942 to 1949 building ships, barges, harbor tugs, and mobile drydocks. Forty-nine launchings were made in the first 36 months. It was hoped that the plant would shift from wartime production to peacetime ship repair, but by 1950 it was gone. A new wave of boat builders began in the 1950s adding the Fishermen’s Boat Shop, Everett Engineering, Morris Boats, Cruise-A-Home, and the Wayward Wind.

A major change for the Port came in 1987 when it sold 110 acres of waterfront property for the Everett Naval Homeport, generating $40 million for economic development. Groundbreaking began on November 9, 1987, and was completed in 1991. Considerable controversy occurred for the Port over how to correctly dispose of toxic materials dredged to create the Homeport.  The disposal plan -- eventually completed -- called for the contaminated material to be disposed in 300 to 400 feet of water and covered with 2.4 million cubic yards of clean native material, a method previously tested at shallower depths.     

Everett’s Commercial Fishing

Immigrant Slavic and Scandinavian fishermen brought their skills to the Everett’s waterfront from 1910 on, their first docks (Piers 1 and 2) mainly near the Port’s present shipping terminals.  Most were purse seiners and gillnetters who fished for salmon from Puget Sound to Alaska. Until 1930 they worked in rowed skiffs and had no radar or radio and no power rolls or power blocks to aid them. 

Everett Packing Company and Fishermen’s Packing Corporation were prosperous on the Everett waterfront from 1913 and their decision to move to Anacortes in 1937 was a major blow to local fishermen.   

By the 1930s, fishing was an important part of Everett’s economy and the Port increasingly worked to accommodate the growing fleet. The industry grew, modernized, and prospered during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  By the mid-1980s it was in decline partially due to the impact of the Boldt decision (which upheld the treaty fishing rights of the tribes), dwindling fish runs, and overfishing.

A Fishermen’s Tribute group is currently working with the Port to honor Everett’s rich fishing heritage. The committee has produced a book and commissioned a sculpture and the Port is including an interpretive site in their current public access projects.

Boeing and Aerospace 

The Boeing Company's presence in Everett dates back to World War II with its operation of two in-town plants for assembling airplane parts. Boeing has depended on the Port of Everett for its shipping needs and the company’s establishment at Paine Field in the 1960s firmed the partnership. Over the years Boeing has become the Port’s major customer.

Today the Port handles all of the oversized aerospace parts for Boeing's 747, 767, 777 airplanes and serves as a backup facility for the 787. It currently hopes to upgrade its South Terminal Intermodal Freight Shipping Facility to accommodate containerized and breakbulk cargoes for larger aerospace components as well as wind energy equipment and electrical transformers.  

More Diversification

In 1969 the Port of Everett built an alumina ore facility and in the 1970s filled in the North Marina area -- now Naval Station Everett. A second round of marina expansion was completed in the 1980s including Marina Village (1984) that added waterfront shops, restaurants, and offices.  The same year the U. S. Navy chose Everett as a future Homeport site. Naval Station Everett opened in 1994. The following year the Port expanded its shipping terminals and purchased property from Weyerhaeuser located on the Snohomish River.

The Port began a new master plan in 2001 to develop Port Gardner Wharf, a 65-acre waterfront parcel intended for development to serve the boating community. 

The Port of Everett celebrated its 90th Anniversary in 2008.

Today’s Port of Everett


The Port of Everett is located on Port Gardner Bay near the mouth of the Snohomish River. Four shipping terminals -- Hewitt, Pacific, South and Mount Baker -- serve the Port, which handles  a variety of cargoes. The Port also manages and operates the largest public marina on the West Coast with 2,300 slips; owns and manages development projects; conducts environmental programs and projects; and provides public access to waterfront trails, docks, and beaches.  

The Port District comprises most of Everett, portions of Mukilteo and portions of unincorporated Snohomish County.  It is governed by three commissioners elected to serve six-year terms. Current Port of Everett plans include:

  • the updating of its South Terminal Freight Facility to accommodate containerized and breakbulk cargoes for aerospace and new technologies such as wind-energy equipment;
  • redevelopment of the North Marina property to include a mix of public uses including a waterfront neighborhood with condominiums, town homes, office space, shops, restaurants, and inns along with 10th Street Marina Park improvements that  include the connection to Jetty Island;
  • a rail spur recovery project funded by Homeland Security that will add 2,300 feet of rail line alongside the Port’s shipping facilities;
  • acquiring the Mukilteo Tank Farm (a decommissioned fuel-tank site being conveyed to the Port of Everett from the U.S. Air Force that accommodates Sounder service and a Washington state multi-modal ferry terminal near the Tank Farm site. 

Two National Register properties are presently in the Port of Everett’s care: the schooner Equator, a sailing boat drydocked on 10th Street connected with poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894); the Weyerhaeuser Building, originally erected as an office at Weyerhaeuser’s Mill A in 1923 and barged north to the company’s Mill B site and now at the Port’s South Marina. 

A third historic property, the North Coast Casket Building (commonly called the Collins Building), was deconstructed by the Port in 2010.  Its materials have been salvaged for reuse in other historic structures, including the Weyerhaeuser Building.   


“Port Commission Is Approved By Almost Unanimous Ballot,” Everett Daily Herald, July 15, 1918, p. 2; “Schwab Promises To Keep Yards Busy On Pacific Coast,” Ibid., July 15, 1918, p. 2; David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle, Historical Survey of the Everett Shoreline (Everett: City of Everett, 1973); Lawrence E. O’Donnell, Everett, Past and Present: a Centennial History of Everett, Washington (Everett: Cascade Savings Bank, 1993); Margaret Riddle conversation with Jack C. O’Donnell and Lawrence E. O’Donnell, April 19, 2010; Jack C. O’Donnell, “A Newer Chronology,” an unpublished manuscript citing Everett Herald articles, 2010 update; Port of Everett website accessed April 2, 2010 (http://www.portofeverett.com/home/index.asp?page=26); John Mohr, “Challenging Financial Times Delaying Port Gardner Wharf,” “Embracing Sustainability,” and “End of An Era: Log Business Disappears As New Business Sails In,” Port Side, Summer, 2008, pp. 2, 8, 13; “Weyerhaeuser Building to Move, Again, in 2009,” “Blue Heron Slough to Provide Vast Environmental Benefits” and “Port of Everett Celebrates 90 Years in the Community,” Port Side, Winter 2008, pp. 5, 7, 9-11; Welcome to the Port of Everett: a Fact Book  (Everett: Port of Everett, 2008 update); Mike Benbow, “Kimberly-Clark To Sell Everett Mills,” January 25, 2011, p. 1; Port of Everett website accessed March 2010 and March 2011.
Note: This essay was revised on March 25, 2011.

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