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|all photos courtesy/whatcom museum of history and art
The celebrated ‘Kulshan,’ the steamer to Seattle, arrived in July 1913 on her maiden trip to Citizens Dock (at right) on the Whatcom Creek waterway. Quackenbush Dock is seen on the left.
On July 1, 1913, Citizens Dock opened as Bellingham’s elegant new passenger terminal for those traveling on Puget Sound by steamship.
The momentous event kicked off with Nickerson’s brass band marching down Holly St. led by a banner inviting everybody to "Get Aboard." After speeches and musical performances, Citizens Dock welcomed its first vessel at 8:30 a.m. with the scheduled arrival of the steamer Kulshan "gaily dressed with flags and pennants."
As the Kulshan came in, 14-year-old Charlie Most tried to get a better view and overstepped a low guardrail. Plunging more than 10 feet, he struck "the stern of a small launch moored there" and bounced off into the water. Hauled out unconscious, Charlie was revived and ushered home where Dr. John Goodheart was summoned. The boy escaped with a sprained wrist and bruises, yet the story of his spectacular spill shared the evening paper’s front page with the dock’s grand opening.
Designed by James Blackwell and Frank Baker, Citizens Dock jutted into the center of the Whatcom Creek waterway from Roeder Avenue as a two-story warehouse with gabled Craftsman-style fronts at both ends. On the bay side, the pier came to a pointed peak to allow ships, arriving bow first, to swing their sterns around and face outbound.
Construction of Citizens Dock was simultaneous with the Federal Government’s dredging of Whatcom Creek waterway in 1913. Earlier dredging in 1904 and 1906 had led to the building of Quackenbush Dock in 1908, which served harbor boats and small commuter craft. But the dredging in 1913 was in anticipation of the Panama Canal’s completion (in 1914) and gave deep-draft vessels access to the waterway for the first time.
Moving the bay’s passenger-steamer traffic to Citizens Dock left the aged Sehome Wharf to be redeveloped by Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills. The timber firm had recently purchased the Bellingham Bay Improvement Co. mill at the south end of Dock Street (now Cornwall Avenue). Years in the planning, Julius Bloedel and J.J. Donovan’s new "Cargo Mill" was poised, with its expanded shipping facility, to take full advantage of the Panama Canal and the markets it would open on the Atlantic seaboard.
For the three years prior to Citizens Dock’s completion, the Kulshan was a regular at Sehome Wharf. Built expressly to replace the steamer Whatcom on the Seattle-Anacortes-Bellingham run, the steel Kulshan was launched on July 21, 1910, from the Moran Co. shipyard in Seattle. She was 160 feet long and had a displacement 926 tons.
|Capt. “Red Jack” Ellsmore on the’ Kulshan,’ c. 1927.
Master of the Kulshan was Capt. John "Red Jack" Ellsmore, who had started his maritime career in 1877 as a deckhand on the Messenger, a steamboat plying between Seattle and Olympia. Over the years, Ellsmore worked numerous vessels popular on Bellingham Bay, including sidewheelers George E. Starr and Sehome, and, for 13 years, was captain of the sternwheeler State of Washington.
Besides the daily Kulshan, Citizens Dock saw the "Magnificent Steamship" Chippewa during the summer-excursion season. Chippewa left Citizens Dock at 8 a.m., stopped in Anacortes, arrived in Victoria by noon, and got back to Bellingham at 11 p.m.
There was even a one-time visit to Citizens Dock by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) steamer Princess Sophia in July 1914. Arriving with nearly 500 tourists from New Westminster, B.C., the Scottish-built Princess Sophia was 245 feet long with a breadth of 44 feet. In October 1918, Princess Sophia was out of Skagway, Alaska, when she ran onto the Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal during a fierce storm. In the night she went down with all 353 passengers on board.
Horace B. Simmerman was Citizens Dock’s manager and ticket agent from 1913 to the early 1930s. Voyages were promoted with the slogan, "There’s Romance in a Boat Trip." The fare for a Bellingham to Seattle ticket went from $2.10 in 1922 to only a dollar by 1928.
On May 21, 1923, auto-ferry service was inaugurated from Quackenbush Dock with the CPR’s Motor Princess running throughout the summer between Sidney, B.C., and Bellingham. The fledgling Port of Bellingham built the ferry slip, representing that public entity’s first major waterfront enhancement. In 1926 the Motor Princess was replaced by the ferry City of Bellingham, but the route was abandoned after the 1929 season due to an economic downturn.
After 16 years at the Kulshan’s helm, Capt. Red Jack retired in 1928 and Puget Sound Navigation (PSN) replaced the Kulshan with the 189-foot Sol Duc on the Seattle-Anacortes-Bellingham run. Sol Duc was a veteran of the Seattle-Port Townsend-Port Angeles-Victoria route, having made the trip nearly every day since her launching from the Moran shipyard back in 1912.
Her unique name came from the hot springs on the Olympic Peninsula being developed as a resort by Michael Earles with his $300,000 Sol Duc Hotel near Port Angeles. Set to benefit from a rising tide of tourists, PSN returned the favor by christening their new 163-passenger steamer Sol Duc. Michael Earles was well-known in Bellingham as co-owner of the Puget Sound Mills & Timber Co. that operated, since 1897, the huge lumber and shingle mill on the Fairhaven waterfront.
The Kulshan left Citizens Dock for the last time on Aug. 28, 1928, but on her maiden voyage to Bellingham the Sol Duc was "gripped by a dense and relentless fog." At 2 a.m. she went aground on Point Partridge on the northwest end of Whidbey Island. Her freight had to be transferred to the steamer Comanche and her passengers taken to Anacortes and Bellingham by tugboat. Sol Duc was taken to drydock in Seattle, where she was declared undamaged. The same couldn’t be said for the pride of her skipper.
|Steamer ‘Sol Duc’ at Citizens Dock, c. 1929.
Sol Duc continued her daily arrivals and departures from Citizens Dock until 1935, when she was replaced late that summer by the Olympic. Sol Duc returned to the run at the start of November, but 10 days later a strike by the Ferryboatmen’s Union and the Masters, Mates, and Pilots’ Association stopped all ferry and passenger steamers on the Sound. No one knew when the Sol Duc cast off for Seattle at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 12, 1935, that she would never return. By the time the strike was settled, the Sol Duc was retired to a dock on Lake Union and passenger steamship service to and from Bellingham was terminated.
An era had ended.
Citizens Dock was purchased by Puget Sound Freight Lines (PSFL) in early 1936. Run by Capt. Frank Edward Lovejoy, PSFL delivered freight between Puget Sound ports with its own handsome flotilla of nine freighters as well as a fleet of trucks that hauled goods to and from the docks.
F.E. Lovejoy was the fourth generation of his family to become a boat captain on Puget Sound, a tradition dating back to 1854. Ed began his nautical career by taking a job as a waiter aboard the sternwheeler Fairhaven during summer break from high school in 1904. Launched at Tacoma on May 15, 1889, the 130-foot-long Fairhaven was built for Nelson Bennett when he was booming a certain Bellingham Bay town of the same name.
Coinciding with PSFL’s acquisition of Citizens Dock was the launching, by Western Boatbuilding in Tacoma, of the company’s new diesel freighter Warrior. Designed by Capt. Lovejoy and his son, Howard, the 154-foot-long Warrior would be a familiar sight in Bellingham well into the 1950s.
|Puget Sound Freight Lines’ ‘F.E. Lovejoy’ (at right) and ‘Warrior’ at Citizens Dock in 1952.
Capt. F.E. Lovejoy died in 1940 and the company passed to Howard Lovejoy. At Olympia on April 17, 1946, PSFL launched its new flagship, the 178-foot-long freighter F.E. Lovejoy, named in honor of the company’s founder.
Slowly, however, PSFL came to rely less and less on its freight boats. By 1970, its 175 trucks hauled 2 million tons of the 2.4 million tons of freight the company handled that year. The waterborne freight PSFL still carried went mostly by barge and the once proud fleet was down to the F.E. Lovejoy, which was retired in June 1971. Citizens Dock was relegated to a transfer warehouse.
In July 1980, PSFL sold Citizens Dock to the City of Bellingham for one dollar. It was appraised at the time to be worth $150,000. Plans were floated for Citizens Dock to become a maritime museum along with potential restaurant and retail. Federal and state grants were applied for, yet nothing ever came of the grand designs for the dock’s renovation.
The City Council voted in July 1986 to move the dock’s superstructure into Maritime Heritage Park, triggering outrage by some that the scheme was a colossal waste of money. Nature resolved the issue that winter when the bay front of Citizens Dock collapsed during a storm and the building was torn down a short time later.
Too late to lament what might have been, but the historic dock would’ve made a beautiful centerpiece in current plans for Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment.