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Duwamish Westcoast Canoe with traditional longhouse in background. Early settlers hired native canoes for transportation. Cedar River, 1893. Photo, University of Oregon Special Collections.


In the early days of settlement in the Puget Sound region overland travel was difficult, horses could not cope with the tangle of fallen logs, underbrush and trees. Like the natives before them white settlers were forced to rely on the waters of Puget Sound for transportation, where they found a natural highway system of canoes already in opera-tion by the native tribes. In the very beginning it was customary when traveling long distances or with loads, to hire native paddlers and canoes.

By the early 1850s the schooner ROVER was making periodic trips between Seattle and Olympia, followed by the sloop SARAH STONE running a regular route between Olympia, Port Townsend and Whidby Island, advertising in local newspapers that passage on the vessel could be obtained by applying on board or to the firm of Parker, Colter and Co. in Olympia.

The need for communication was keenly tied to the need for transportation, mail for the Puget Sound region came weekly from Oregon, it was brought up to Cowlitz Landing and carried by horseback over-land to Olympia. Settlers on Puget Sound had to make the trip to Olympia for their mail. In his book, The Sound of Steamers, Roland Carey wrote,

Sailing vessels lost time beating against the wind. Furthermore, tides were strong in the deep channels, and against both tide and wind a sailing craft could make little headway…sailing vessels could never solve the transportation problems on Puget Sound.

As the cities of Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle began to develop and grow in the mid to late 1850s more settlers arrived and the need for dependable modes of transportation demanded a new technology, which soon came in the form of the steamboat.




In late June 1851, San Francisco had a fire that destroyed much of the city, rebuilding quickly began and most of the trees near the city suitable for lumber were quickly cut down. Ships traveled to Puget Sound looking for new sources of lumber, when they arrived they discovered a seemingly inexhaustible supply of trees. The sail ship LEONESA came to Quartermaster Harbor in 1853, and ’54 to cut ‘spars’ for pilings in San Francisco. At this time there were no permanent settlers on Vashon, the first survey of Vashon-Maury was done in 1856 and the first the land claims came in 1864, mostly logging claims.


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Sailing vessel, Quartermaster Harbor, 1893. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections.


​In 1853 the side-wheel steamboat FAIRY began service on Puget Sound. The Olympia newspaper Columbian reported,

We take great satisfaction in announcing the arrival at our wharf on Monday last the steamer FAIRY, D. J. Gove master…The firing of cannon proclaimed her appearance and brought the populace in mass to the bayside to behold the welcome little beauty. She is intended to ply the Sound as a regular accommodation packet, and much credit is due her popular proprietor for his successful introduction.

Steam power was firmly established on the Sound in 1859 with the arrival of the 140-foot side-wheeler ELIZA ANDERSON, from Portland, Oregon. Steamboats could operate independently of tide and wind, could carry freight and passengers, and give dependable, economical service. This advance in transportation technology would lead to a fleet of steamers plying the waters of Puget Sound.


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Steamboat ELIZA ANDERSON at dock. Built in Portland in 1858. Served Puget Sound initially with an Olympia to Victoria mail run in 1859. Photo, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Ph Coll 1290, no date.


Jean Cammon Findley and Robin Paterson wrote of early Puget Sound steamers in their book, Mosquito Fleet of South Puget Sound,

In the beginning the early steamers were built elsewhere, England, the East Coast, San Francisco, or Portland and their designs reflected riverboats, which had shallow drafts for traveling at low water, an advantage on Puget Sound, before docks, a boat could run up close to a sloping shore needing only a gang plank to load passengers and goods.

The November 16, 1882 Seattle Daily Post Intelligencer ran an article about Vashon featuring island resident J.A. Banfield reporting, “The island from 1853 to 1862 or ’63 was the scene of a busy logging industry. The timber, easily accessible, was taken off and the ground burned over more than once.”

The Weekly Pacific Tribune reported in 1874, that Quartermaster Harbor had become a place of considerable activity, as fishermen, farmers, loggers and brick makers worked on its shores. The paper reported the forty three foot steamer LIVLEY was put on a daily run carrying passengers from Tacoma, and returning with fish. A later report states the run could not sustain itself and lasted for only a short time.


Fishing from scows in Quartermaster Harbor, Dockton resident Frank Berry standing on net pile. Fishing, logging and mining clay were the first industries on Vashon, starting before permanent settlers came in 1877.  Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections.


In his book History of Vashon-Maury Island, O.S. Van Olinda noted that logging had been done around the mouth of Judd Creek and various parts of Quartermaster Harbor prior to the arrival of the first permanent settlers in 1877. In his memoir, Bill Rendall wrote of seeing abandoned logging sites on Maury Island,

The author remembers as a small boy walking down the remains of skid-roads of large logging outfit, which had been in operation on the island (Maury), and apparently had been a large one, as the skid-roads were at least two miles long, with their landing place on Quartermaster Harbor, on what was in 1886 the Hatch and Carter proprieties (near the present day golf course). The skids on the road at that time were nearly all rotted away, and the stumps in many cases were half rotten, and the tops were covered with mold and vegetation, in one case with a young fire tree about fifteen feet high  growing out of the top of the stump. For all the signs the author believes this camp to have been in operation at least forty years before that time.

Imagine Quartermaster Harbor in the 1870s, along the shores were eight native village sites. Vast stands of huge timber grew right to the water, punctuated by scars from log-ging. Perhaps a sailing ship at anchor loading logs. At various spots on the harbor cay banks along the beach had primitive brick making operations. Fishermen in scows, rowboats and from the beach, were casting nets into the fertile water. Picture as Bill Rendall wrote, “the waters of Quartermaster Harbor literally covered with ducks and geese,” this is the Quartermaster Harbor the first settlers experienced.




In the absence of a passing steamer early Vashon-Maury settlers were faced with travel by canoe, rowboat, or sail, each being slow and unpredictable. To reach other island settlers over-land, deer trails and paths through the dense forest served as roads. Tran-sportation by water and over-land was as important for communication to the early settlers as it was for transportation


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Typical flat bottomed settler style rowboat, Dockton, no date. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association


There was no regular steamboat transportation for the early settlers on Vashon-Maury, to purchase supplies on the mainland settlers relied on transportation by rowboat. ​In his book History of Vashon-Maury Islands, O.S. Van Olinda recounts a settler’s story he titled, Going Shopping In ’78, that illustrates the difficulty of early travel to the mainland,

We got away about eight in the morning, took turns rowing the old flat bottomed boat and when we got to Old Town Tacoma it was pretty well along towards noon. We bought the stuff we wanted and packed it down to the boat. We got lots of beans, four sacks of flour, some pork belly, some stuff mother needed to make clothes for the girls and some other little things, oh and a little pack of sugar. Before we were halfway home the fog was as thick as the pea soup kind you read about, we didn’t know how far it was in any direc-tion…Your going somewhere but you don’t know where.. we rowed for hours-weeks, it seemed. Finally we smashed into a rock and it was a beach, we hadn’t the slightest notion in the world where we were, but we were somewhere and there we would stay until day-light. The fog had thinned out some and as soon as it was light enough to see our way we started walking up the beach. We didn’t get more then one hundred feet when we found the trail that led up to our house. I can only laugh at it today, but i’ll be darned if I could that night.

Frank Miner, who came over with the original Sherman party in 1877 recalled the transportation challenges the pioneers faced,

If pioneering is hard on the mainland where poor trials are the only handicap, it is harder on an island where everything must be brought across the always changing waters in little rowboats or awkward scows. These men came with little or no supply of money, and so as to get food and clothing while the land yielded only rocks and stumps, the men had to work in Tacoma, while the women “held down” the claims. When the men left for town Sunday or Monday, in their rowboats, their wives couldn’t tell whether they got there or not until the next Friday evening when the men returned to work their homesteads.

Imagine rowing from Quartermaster Drive area to Tacoma in a heavy flat bottomed rowboat, first of all you would want to be going out with the tide, secondly you would want to have enough time to make the trip (I rowed from Judd Creek to Dockton Park as a kid and that seemed like I was rowing all day!). If you wanted to make a one day round trip you would have to get an early start to make it back before dark (I had a friend with a super-fast inboard speedboat and we made it from Judd Creek to Foss Waterway in Tacoma in eight minutes, quite a difference from an all day row!).

Now imagine being out in the middle of the passage with the tide working against you, the tide is wanting to take you north up the east passage, you are wanting to go southeast to Old Tacoma (I can feel the blisters in my hands just thinking about it). Island historian Marjorie Stanley, who grew up next to the Quartermaster Dock, recalled how rowing was the way to get around the harbor and to the summer festivals at Magnolia and Manzanita in the early 1900s, “how I groaned when I had to be one of the “armstrongs,” as they called rowers,” she wrote.


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Manzanita Beach, Virginia Carmen, Helen Carmen and Helen Moore. Photo, shared by Puge1 on


As Frank Minor pointed out rowing could also be dangerous.  In 1879 a Mrs. Moorhouse was staying with the Minor’s while her husband built a home for them, she was very sick and there was no doctor on Vashon, two men rowed to Tacoma for a doctor. Due to strong tides on the return trip, the boat had to land at Point Robinson and the doctor had to walk from there to Quartermaster, by the time he arrived, Mrs. Moorehouse had died. In another incident reported in the Tacoma Daily Ledger, four inexperienced rowers, who had just met on a train from the midwest, went for a rowboat ride from Old Town Tacoma and strayed to far out towards Vashon Island, the boat was suspected to have capsized and the four were never seen again.




In the early summer of 1877 S.D. Sherman and two other men hitched a ride on a lumber schooner in Tacoma heading for the Phinney logging camp, one mile east of the present day town of Vashon, they hiked across the island, ending up at Quartermaster harbor, where they caught a different schooner back to Tacoma.

In November 1877 S.D. Sherman’s family, the Price family and the Gillman family, known as the first permanent settlers on Vashon, came to Quartermaster Harbor aboard another schooner, arriving at dusk, they pushed their livestock overboard to swim to shore, unloaded their belongings and took shelter in an abandoned loggers shack nearby they came to call “Fort Necessity.”

In 1879 realizing transportation was needed between Quartermaster Harbor and Tacoma, S.D. Sherman purchased OLD BLACK JOE, a ship’s boat which had been lost from the sailing vessel MOHONGO and was later found floating at sea and subsequently towed to Tacoma. Sherman gave the boat a schooner rig and put it into commission in more or less regular service to Tacoma. The boat could handle six tons, and in addition to sails, had a set of oars sixteen feet long. As Frank Minor recalled, “this met the island needs at that time and saved many a fee of two dollars and a half which any other boat would charge for stopping on the island.”

In 1882 S.D. Sherman purchased the SWAN, a thirty two foot craft with a steam engine, In his book, History of Vashon-Maury Islands, O.S. Van Olinda wrote,

The first intimation islanders, even the Captain’s family, had of its existence, was when he steamed it into Quartermaster Harbor…the Swan was placed on a regular schedule of two trips per week but the schedule was flexible in the extreme, depending on the roughness of the weather, the immediate available wood supply and other elements which entered into the plans of the early settlers. 


Eliza and S.D. Sherman in front of Fort Necessity, a blurred image of Sherman’s steamer SWAN can be seen between tree branches in the right background. Sherman family photo.


In the June, 1934 Nor’wester Magazine issue, pioneer Tim Clarke, whose family came to Vashon in 1883 and homesteaded above the mouth of Judd Creek, recounted the follow-ing story about Captain Sherman and the SWAN,

It seems that after the usual transportation of just a small row-boats, this larger rowboat, accommodating as many as six passengers, with an engine in the boat, was one progressive jump! Before the first schedule was systemized, Mr. Sherman would let neighbors know that he would probably be making a trip over to Tacoma the next Saturday, leaving about four in the morning. So at dawn the bearded settlers would gather around for the long trip to town…Capt. Sherman would survey the horizon and heavily remark, “by kinders, I don’t think we can today, it’s going to blow.” The next Saturday they would make the trip maybe, if the weather wasn’t’t too difficult. 

Due to her small size the SWAN was able to run with one person as both master (captain) and engineer. United States Steamboat Inspection Service records show S.D. Sherman received both licenses in Seattle on June 14, 1883, in August the Tacoma Daily Ledger reported,

Since the establishment of the mail route to Vashon Island, the little steamer Swan has been doing an increasing business in transporting freight and general merchandise for the people living on the island. Quite an extensive passenger traffic is also being developed.

Sherman and the SWAN would serve on the Quartermaster Tacoma run throughout the 1880’s.




Before the days of roads and over-land travel by horse and wagon, logging operations created skid roads to haul logs to the water where large booms of logs were collected for towing to the mills. After trees where cleared settlements developed and rudimentary trails and abandoned skid roads developed as in-land transportation routes.

The first community on Vashon-Maury, called Quartermaster, formed around what is now the south end of Monument Road, it is here where the families of the Sherman party and others homesteaded. A landing had developed on S.D. Sherman’s homestead for Sherman’s OLD BLACK JOE in the late 1870s, referred to as the “Lumber Landing.” From this landing there extended a trail system generally parallel to today’s Quartermaster Drive. The trail went west to current day Dugway Road following it up the hill in-land, and west to Judd Creek, a trail extended from the south side of Judd Creek to the Burton area. To the east of Sherman’s Landing the trail followed the waters edge and along the bluff in front of the Sherman home, continuing on to Portage, then following Kingsbury beach to the Lagoon Another trail paralleled present day Point Robinson Road, slightly to the north, connecting with present day Luana Beach Road.


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Dotted lines represent the early trials and roads. Vashon road compilation map, King CountyMap Vault.


Trails on the east side of Vashon-Maury extended in-land from Chautauqua and Vashon Landing. On the west side trails extended from Langell Landing, Lisabeula, Page’s Landing and Colvos.

In the early days deer trails, cleared areas, abandoned logging skid roads, government section lines, and abutting homestead property lines were used to get around the interior of the Island. In his memoir Bill Rendall gives a first hand recollection of in-land trails and left over logging skid-roads that Maury Island settlers used to get around.

The lack of roads was no impediment to travels of the early settlers, either on foot or horseback, as the whole island (Maury), was a network of cattle trails, made by the herds of cattle owned by some of the settlers. All livestock except milking cows being allowed to run at large.

George Walls described the skid road his family encountered when they moved to the Colvos area in 1889, where Jefferson Carr earlier had homesteaded one hundred acres,

Eight-team oxen hauled logs down this road, it was called a skid road because logs were partially buried, and then greased with dog-fish oil, or any other heavy oil or grease they could get ahold of. Two and three logs were chained together, and the oxen pulled them down to the water, or mill over the greased logs.


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Men and horse team hauling logs down a skid road, Vashon, no date. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW, 19390.


Settler’s typically arrived at one of the “Landings” on the island and walked in-land on trails as Mathue Johnson did in 1889, “My grandparents brought me to Vashon with them in the fall of 1889 when I was six years old” he recalled,

We came from my birthplace in Iowa, to join my grandmother’s sons who were already living on the island. A little boat called the Glide brought us to the island where we went ashore at Cedarhurst, in a rowboat. There was no dock at that time-just a little float where we unloaded our things. After landing on the beach we followed the narrow winding trail that led up to where we were to live (near present day Community Care Center).


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People on log bridge over ravine south of Harrington Greenhouse , 1883. Photo, O. S. Van Olinda. University of Washington Special Collections, UW, 19189.


Langell Landing was where O.S. Van Olinda arrived on Vashon, he wrote,

Langell Landing was the first place I stepped onto Vashon island, from the little steamer Iola. I came from the great prairies of Nebraska and as I walked up to Center in the gathering dusk of a mid August evening, giant fir trees towering three hundred feet above me on either side of the trail in an almost impenetrable wall and flanked by great banks of ferns…I marveled at the folly of man thinking he could ever convert such material into a farm, a garden or even a home. It was truly a stupendous task to complete. It has been done.


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The Road Above Vashon Wharf 1891. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda. University of Washington Special Collection, PH Coll 375.1B.


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Blogging about Vashon Island past and present. I'm a 4th generation Vashon Islander, artist, dad and grandfather