Issaquah Ferry Pilot Houses (Sausalito, CA)

300 Napa Street, Sausalito, California

Pilot House of Issaquah Ferry

Pilot House of the Issaquah Ferry, Sausalito, CA. (Photo courtesy of David Bangs, 1999)

The ferry ISSAQUAH has gone through a long life’s journey since its maiden journey on Lake Washington on May 2, 1914. Most of the ferry is history, but the two pilot houses are preserved and on display in the Galilee Harbor parking lot in Sausalito, California. As of September 1999, the harbor is undergoing a $1.7M expansion, after which the ISSAQUAH pilot houses will be positioned on either side of the walkway to the boats, and serve as a museum to both the ferry ISSAQUAH and the history of the Galilee Harbor community.

The 114 foot two decker steam ferry boat was revolutionary when it was launched by the Anderson Steamboat Co. in 1914. It served as a private ferry and tour boat on Lake Washington until 1918, when public ferry competition made its continued operation here unprofitable. At that time, it was sold to the newly formed Rodeo/Vallejo line in California and brought down the coast to the San Francisco Bay where it served on various runs until it was retired in the 1948.

Pilot Houses of the Issaquah Ferry

Pilot Houses of the Issaquah Ferry, Sausalito, CA. (Photo courtesy of David Bangs, 1999).

In the 1950’s, the ferry was moved to Sausalito and divided up into individually rented units. The tenants tended to be artists and were described at the time as “beatniks.” Though the boat was superficially maintained, all the time it was sinking deeper into the mudflats and suffering rot from the bottom up. In 1970, Issaquah area historian Harriet Fish visited the boat and wrote a series of articles for The Issaquah Press on the ferry’s history and predicament. One of those articles was entitled “Ferry Issaquah is Seeing Her Last Days.” Later, the wheelhouses and walls of the ferry were saved when the mudflats on which the ferry rested were developed into today’s Waldo Point houseboat development.

 

Steefenie Wicks of the Galilee Harbor Community Association has been instrumental in preserving what’s left of the ISSAQUAH. Wicks was the director of the now-defunct Art Zone organization from 1984-1988. Under her direction, the organization rescused the Issaquah’s remaining walls from the rotting hulk on Sausalito’s mudflats. Art Zone represented the interests of artists and others who were living in boats and other structures along the city’s waterfront before they were displaced by new developments in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Galilee Harbor, which is a resident-owned live-a-board marina, is a direct result of that movement.

A nearby houseboat dock is surprisingly named “Issaquah Dock.” It is part of the Waldo Point Harbor houseboat community, on Gate 6 road off Bridgeway, in Sausalito. The ferry ISSAQUAH languished for many years on the mud flats that later became part of the Waldo Point development.

The Issaquah Ferry, by Phil Frank

The Issaquah Ferry in a 1977 cartoon by Phil Frank. This cartoon was drawn in 1977 by Phil Frank, a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and creator the ‘Farley’ comic strip. It’s caption reads “I dreamt that The ISSAQUAH was fired up for one more day. Everyone got on it. We went all over the bay and had a great party.” The flag atop reads “Waldo Point.” Cartoon copied from the collection of Galilee Harbor Community Association.

Ferry History

The following is an excerpt from the book This Was Issaquah, by Harriet Fish, page 12. Pages 12-21 contain a series of newspaper articles written by Harriet about the ferry Issaquah. The full book is available at the Issaquah Depot gift shop. This article was written in 1970:

. . . [By] 1914, Captain [John] Anderson [of the Anderson Steamboat Co.] had gathered about him other visionary boat designers who drew up, built, and launched the first, and last, privately owned inland waterway, double-ended, steam ferry boat. From that day in 1913 when here keel was laid, until March of 1914 when she was launched, this revolutionary version of water travel attracted much attention among the boat building industry.

For her name, John selected the fast growing town east of the lake, where mines and farms were producing the output to be transported to Seattle, and the many needs for this community were also moved from Seattle eastward. So, this new 114 foot two-decker ferry boat, with a maple dance floor, was named The ISSAQUAH. She was launched with appropriate banners and festivities involving the mayors of both Seattle and Issaquah, but, to the chagrin of the launchers, her 9 foot draft proved too deep for the lake show bottom, and she had to be freed from her “stuck-in-the-mud” position the day after launching.

Launch party of the Issaquah Ferry.

A scene from the 1914 launch festivities onboard the ISSAQUAH at Houghton, WA on March 7, 1914. The two men identified by arrows are Issaquah mayor P.J. Smith (left) and Seattle mayor Hiram Gill (right), who is speaking to the crowd. Photo loaned by Mrs. Irvin (Helen) Johnson and reproduced in This Was Issaquah, p15.

By May 1914, she was outfitted and dependably serving the public, crossing Lake Washington between Leschi, the Parental School on Mercer Island, and Newport. She served this run for 3½ years. In between her scheduled runs, she too was used as a floating and cruising dance hall and party center by celebrating groups of people.

Quoted from a newspaper clipping of May 1914, “The Ferry Issaquah started on May 2, 1914, to ply between Newport and Leschi. People driving to Seattle can now save extra mileage by using this route and gain considerable time besides. Kellogg’s Stage and Griffith’s freight trucks immediately changed to this route, the former now making perfect connections with the evening train.”

In 1917, the competition from the growing King County Ferry System put an end to the practical operation of a private system, and, in 1918, this neat, compact ferry boat, with its twin smokestacks and pilot houses, was sold to a San Francisco Bay transportation company. Leaving Houghton on May 30, 1918, all boarded up above the waterline, and loaded with cord wood, she proceeded under her own power to Neah Bay, where she loaded more wood and was met by a tug which would assist her in the sea trip southward.

Her quality construction proved sea worthy, and she gave thirty additional good years of continued service in the Vallejo-Martinez area, always proudly carrying the name ISSAQUAH. In 1918, the ferry was operated between Vallejo and Rodeo by the Rodeo-Vallejo Ferry Company. In 1927, after the completion of the Carquinez Bridge, the ferry was sold to the Martinez-Benicia ferry company, which operated it between Martinez and Benicia until 1941, after which the ferry was put to work on Mare Island-Vallejo service, and was laid up after the war at Vallejo.After the Second World War she was retired, and still today she is sinking deeply into the mud flats of Sausalito, where her “grounded” years have served many levels of life as studio, home and shelter.

The simple comment of one of her California captains tells it all: “She was a good ship.”

Modern Issaquah Class Ferries

Issaquah Class FerriesEncouraged by Issaquah historian Harriet Fish, the Washington State Ferry System christened a new ferry as The ISSAQUAH in 1979. The Motor Vessel Issaquah was built in 1979, becoming the first Issaquah Class ferry. The 328 foot ferry can carry 100 automobiles and 1200 passengers. The passenger compartment is entirely decorated with photos of historic Issaquah. The ferry runs the route between Seattle and Bremerton.

The Issaquah became the first of a series of ferries called “Issaquah 130 Class Ferries” that currently operate on Puget Sound. Modern Issaquah Class ferries include the ISSAQUAH, KITSAP, KITTITAS, and CATHLAMET. Slightly longer and newer “Issaquah Class” ferries include the CHELAN and SEALTH.

More Ferry Trivia

The ferry ISSAQUAH was used in the 1965 movie Dear Brigitte starring Jimmy Stewart, which was filmed on the Sausalito waterfront. It’s all about a little boy who is in love with Brigitte Bardot. You may want to rent it and see if you can see the ISSAQUAH in the background shots.

Bibliography

Harriet U. Fish; This Was Issaquah; 1987; Issaquah, WA
Annie Sutter; The Old Ferryboats of Sausalito; 1982, 1987; Scope Publishing Company; Sausalito, CA

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