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Steamer CAPITAL CITY, Washington, unloading passengers by rowboat. Photo, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, no date.


As the settler population increased, steamer routes were extended up and down sound from Victoria to Olympia, with stops in Steilacoom, Tacoma, Seattle, Everette and Bellingham in between. In his book The Sound of Steamers, Roland Carey described how settlers in little isolated communities without steamer stops caught rides on passing steamers.

In his skiff or clinker-built rowboat, the pioneer rancher often made his way from some remote clearing…he hailed the passing steamer and on it continued his journey to the nearest point of civilization. If he had freight, or produce for market it would be taken aboard the vessel and transported to the city. During the early years of settlement on Vashon Island, the people relied upon oars and sails for transportation. The ZEPHYR and the MESSENGER, on their regular trips through the East Pass, rounded Point Robinson every day, however, so some settlers on Maury Island cut a trail to the point. Capt. W. R. Ballard of the ZEPHYR, and Capt. Parker, of the MESSENGER, then agreed to pick up passengers from a rowboat. They would stop,  provided that a flag had been raised on the beach, as a signal. This system required the cooperation of several persons. The passenger had to have someone accompany him out, to row the boat back, and take the flag down. Before a passenger could get off the steamer, moreover, someone had to be there with a boat to meet him. On foggy mornings, there were a few problems involved in this arrangement.


ZEPHYR, built in 1871. ZEPHYR ran on the Olympia-Steilacoom-Tacoma-Seattle route and stopped wherever else a flag was raised including the east side of Vashon. Photo,  Washington State Historical Society.
MESSENGER, 91′ sternwheeler, built 1876. MESSENGER ran in opposition to ZEPHYR and would also make flag stops. Photo, Gordon Newell, H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior, Seattle WA 1966, frontispiece.


In her Beachcomber series, Search for Laughter, Marjorie Stanley wrote about passenger loading on early steamers,

Landing passengers before docks were built was mostly by signal, with those wanting aboard coming out in rowboats, heaven help the skirt-hampered women on a wave-dashing day. Many boats of earlier days carried their own “landing craft.” These were usually the life boats swung from davits on the large stern wheelers. Small steamers carried light skiffs on the lower deck which could be put into the water easily. 

The Tacoma Daily Ledger wrote an article in 1883 advocating for a steamship company to be headquartered at New Tacoma mentioning the lack of docks on Vashon Island,

Complaints have reached the ‘NEWS’ of alleged exorbitant rates for passage and freight between this city and Vashon Island. Last year there was no regular means of communication with this island. Now steamers are there occasionally, but are obliged to land a limited number of passengers and light freights on a float, or else run the bow of the boats into a beach, at considerable risk and delay, on account of the lack of wharfage. It would be a good idea if the Vashon people would get together and build a wharf at a convenient point and make it an inviting place for steamers to call. 

In 1884 the Brown’s Wharf and Navigation Co. had the steamer BOB IRVING on a weekly route between Tacoma, Quartermaster Harbor, Gig Harbor, Henderson Bay and all points in between. Fred Kingsbury recalled the BOB IRVING in Quartermaster Harbor at the time,

Groceries and supplies were purchased from Captain Brown’s sternwheeler grocery boat, a travel store boat that caused probably more jubilation on its arrival than the showboats of the Mississippi. Supplies on-board included everything from the necessary groceries to dress goods and gimcracks for the youngsters. The appearance of Capt. brown’s sternwheeler were marked events for the whole family in those days. 

In his memoir Maury Island pioneer Bill Rendall wrote about the BOB IRVING picking up passengers at Point Robinson around this time,

The BOB IRVING was one of the most curious appearing steamers operating on the sound, her hull had a scow bow, with a long overhang, which enabled her to land at any beach and run out a gangplank.


NORTH PACIFIC, side wheel steamboat loading by gangplank, Vashon Island. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, no date. Photo, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.


Beginning around 1886, the steamboat FLEETWOOD supplied Maury resident John Ogilvy with a skiff to carry passengers out when the boat whistled as it came in the area.


FLEETWOOD, built at Portland 1881, she worked the Columbia River until being bought and transferred to Puget Sound in 1888 for the Seattle-Tacoma run, and stopping at flag stops on Maury Island. Photo, University of Washington Special Collections.


1892 the steamer OTTER operated as a general store running weekly to Vashon-Maury, points on the mainland and the south sound islands, carrying a complete line of necess-ities from clothing and food.


OTTER built in Portland Oregon, the OTTER first towed badges for the Renton Coal Co. and then ran in competition with the Zephyr and Messenger, after a collision in 1892, she was re-built as a floating store. Photo, PSMHS 1847.




In 1877 before a post office was established on Vashon, S.D. Sherman rowed mail to the Quartermaster harbor area from Tacoma, later sailing it over on his converted lifeboat OLD BLACK JOE.

M.S. Kline describes the importance of steamers, not only for transportation, but for communication between isolated communities, in her book Steamboat Virginia V,

A steamer whistle broke the silence and the loneliness, lending cheerfulness to isolated little towns…The steamer landing became the community’s focal point. The general store was usually located nearby where friends and neighbors congregated to exchange news of the outside world and their daily lives. It was customary to leave your house or work and hasten to the landing when the steamer’s whistle blew for a pier up the line…One never knew who might be aboard-a cousin, or a brother who hadn’t been seen for ten years, who had just made the journey west, a new Territorial Governor or legislative representative, a journalist, a newcomer or your wife to be!

On May 14, 1882 the Seattle Daily Post Intelligencer reported,

The people residing on Vashon Island are now so numerous as to require a weekly mail, at least. Besides the farmers located there, a new logging camp has recently opened, in which about twenty men are constantly employed.

The first official United States post office on Vashon was established April 23, 1883, on the Herriott homestead, at their home on the beach near the Phinney logging camp on the east passage, one mile east of the present day town of Vashon, this would later be known as Vashon Landing. In 1884 the post office was moved to John Blackburn’s home just east of the present town of Vashon. In 1890 Frank Gorsuch opened a store one mile west of the Vashon Landing, starting the future town of Vashon. In 1892 the post office was moved to the E.E. Van Olinda building about on the site of the present Vashon Fire and Rescue building on Bank Road.


E.E. Van Olinda building, home of the Vashon post office, 1892- 1923, west of town on Bank Road. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections.


On July 7, 1883 the Tacoma Daily Ledger reported,

Some months ago the citizens petitioned the Post Office Department at Washington for a trip-weekly mail between this city and the Island. The establishment of the route was strongly endorsed by Ben Simpson Special Agent of the Department, and yesterday a representative  of the Ledger called on Mr. Simpson for the particulars of progress in that direction. Heretofore the mail has been carried from this city to Vashon Island  whenever it could be sent through by reliable residents of the Island. A post office was established there some time ago. Mr. Simpson now states that he is ready to receive bids for carrying the mail three times a week, and suggests that the contractor, by putting on a small steamer, could do a good business, and one which would increase in both freight and passenger traffic  The person who takes the contract, from his receiving a stipulated amount from the Post Office Department, will have a monopoly of the business, unless it should at once get very large, he could have no opposition. The advantage of running a small steamer and building up a trade is therefore great, because of no interference from others. The idea of Mr. Simpson is that the steamer can go to the Island and return each day or evening, making the round trip in about three or four hours, as the distance is only about twelve miles (from Tacoma to the Vashon post office at Vashon Landing). There are a good many people on the Island who need supplies, and who wish to come back and forth, as New Tacoma people will also desire to do. The steamer would in this way prove very convenient. In a single locality on Vashon Island there are said to be some thirty families. The mail delivered there is large, as Mr. Simpson states, and as there are very frequent registered packages, the route has been rendered particularly needful. Since the Island is so attractive, the people of New Tacoma will probably have occasion to make frequent excursions to it, which would materially increase the business of the contractor, should he make the route by steamer as has been wisely proposed.

On September 15, 1883 the Tacoma Daily Ledger reported that a town site was being laid out at Trumps Harbor (Tramp Harbor was called Trump’s Harbor and also Bradford’s Bay at the time). The following year George H. Fuller started a store in the area.

In the late 1800s the Chautauqua movement was an adult education movement with entertainment and culture, including, speakers, musicians, entertainers, and preachers. In 1888 the Chautauqua Assembly choose the present day Ellisport area for a permanent home, a town called Chautauqua was platted, lots were created and sold, a store, post office and dock were built.


1888 plat of Chautauqua Beach, King County map vault.


Chautauqua 1892, development continued at Chautauqua, note the several large buildings and float dock below a large pavilion building, present day KVI on far right. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections, UW, 19139.


In 1887, Capitan J.F. Vanderhoef became master and agent for the steamer IOLA, owned by Capitan Edwin Miller. Starting from Tacoma in the morning, Vanderhoef cruised Colvos Pass looking for business on either side of the passage, in the afternoon, the IOLA had a mail contract on the east side of Vashon-Maury, picking up and delivering mail and passengers at, Adelaide (on the mainland), Maury, Chautauqua and Vashon Landing, then searched the East Pass for fares as it made the return trip to Tacoma. In 1889 Miller sold the IOLA to Thomas Redding. Vanderhoef and Miller bought the steamer GLIDE to replace the IOLA. The GLIDE had a mail contract to deliver daily along the west shore of the mainland from Brown’s Point, to Des Moines, then across the East Passage to just north of Point Robinson, where the Maury post office was established with lighthouse keeper Charles Davis as postmaster. In 1898 the Maury post office was moved a quarter mile up the hill  to the James Ogilvy home, and Ogivey became postmaster. After the Maury post office the GLIDE went on to deliver the mail at Chautauqua and Vashon Landing. In 1907 Otto Billington erected a store building and dwelling on his property, a half mile up the hill from the Maury post office, Billington operated the store for several years. Later Billington sold all his stock to William Bush, who moved the stock and established a store further east. The GLIDE continued the IOLA’s old route, On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday she made the trip from Tacoma to Seattle stopping at landings on the west side of Vashon at Hammersmark Landing (just north of present day Lisabeula Park), Olalla (on the Kitsap side of Colvos Passage), and Paige’s Landing (just south of present day Beulah Park). Now that the GLIDE and IOLA were running on opposite sides of the Island on opposite days the whole Island had daily steamer service.


Steamer IOLA, Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, no date.


In 1890 W.H. Clarke and James Wylie opened a store and a post office near the Sherman homestead and steamboat landing, with M. Wylie as postmaster. In 1892 Miles Hatch established a community at Burton where he built a store. Hatch built the Burton Dock in 1894 and the Quartermaster post office moved to Burton the same year.


Sherman Homestead (located along present day Quartermaster Drive), and Landing, circa 1889, Quartermaster Dock, Sherman’s home, behind Shrman home is believed to be the post office-store started by M. Wiley. Burton and Burton Peninsula in the background. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association.


A post office opened at Lisabeula on the west side of the island in 1892. The first postmaster was John Brink. The legend is that Brink tried to use a name that was already in use by another post office, so the post office inspector processing the post office application combined the first names of his daughter’s Eliza and Beulah to create a unique name for the new post office, another version claims the names came from Brink’s daughters.  The post office and small store at Lisabeula served the nearby farming community. In 1902 Anton and Emma Baunsgard bought a portion of the Hammersmark homestead. Baunsgard built two large houses, one housed the post office and a store. Baunsgard kept a float, off the north side of the point at present day Lisabeula Park, mail would be left at the float and Baunsgard would row out to pick it up. Baunsgard also put in greenhouses where he grew cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables that went to market on the mail steamer’s return to Seattle.


Lisabeula dock and post office, circa 1902. The large house on the beach, far right, was used as a post office and store, greenhouses built 1902, center. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association


A post office was established at Aquarium (south of the present day Winghaven park), in 1894 the post office was moved three quarters of a mile south to the Glen Acres, where there was a store, hotel, post office and dock. Agnes Huffman recalled trips to the Aquarium post office in the late 1800s,

During this time people at the Cedarhurst side of the island had to walk over to the opposite side of the island to Aquarium to get our mail. It was a long but lovely walk up the Cedarhurst Canyon to the east beach where the post office was kept by Captain Fish and his wife.


Aquarium Post Office, 1894, Aquarium was located in between present day Winghaven and Glen Acres. Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections, UW, 19308


The first retail grocery store and meat market on Maury Island was established by J.F. Riehm at Dockton in 1892. The store was housed in the Dockton Hotel, of which Mr. Riehm was manger. In his memoir Maury Island pioneer Bill Rendall reports,

Mr. Reihm also acted a postmaster during these years, the mail being brought out from Tacoma by the small steamer STARLING, the STARLING being the attendant and work boat of the Drydock, the mail being taken up to the Dockton Hotel, and distributed there by Mr. Reihm


View inside Dockton dry dock, 1892, Quartermaster Harbor. Dockton hotel in background (the hotel was located to the east of the present day old Dockton store building). Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, University of Washington Special Collections, PH Coll 376.


1903 a new store with a post office was built close to the shore end of the dock, by Albert Neilson, who was appointed postmaster. Later Theodore Berry purchased the Neilson store at the beach and Neilson’s brother, Nels Neilson, opened a store up the hill away from the beach. After a few years Berry bought Nels Neilson’s store. Rendall notes that, “but inside two years Mr. Berry built a new modern store building, adjoining where the Dockton store and post office were located (in the building still standing in Dockton).

In 1903 Charles Van Olinda bought property on the Maury Island side of Portage where he built a combination home and store building, shortly after a post office was established in Van Olinda’s store. In 1906 Van Olinda moved the original store building north and constructed a two story building for the store and residence. Both buildings remain at Portage today, though the original store building has a distinct lean to it. The first rural mail delivery on Vashon-Maury Island started from the Portage post office.


Men outside the Portage post office, 1903. Photo, Buck Photographers, University of Washington Special Collections.


A post office opened at Cove in 1906 with J. Rindal as postmaster, his brother E. Rindal opened a store at Cove shortly after. In his book History of Vashon-Maury Island, O.S. Van Olinda recounts how the residents of Cove received their mail.

For several years the Cove mail was received from the Vashon post office by volunteer carriers on no regular schedule, no salary, but plenty of good-will. Whenever the mail came in it was delivered locally by other carriers, each man in the community taking his turn according to a pre-arranged plan, carrying the mail in a basket and “footing it” from house to house.

The Colvos post office opened in 1905, in the Wall’s home, and had only one postmaster John Walls before closing in 1910.

Ira Case established a post office and store at Magnolia beach, which was largely a summer home community of Tacoma residents, in 1908. Case’s Marjestra Inn also house a small store and Case’s residence. Case remained the postmaster until the office closed in 1953.


Ira Case’s Marjestra Inn and the Magnolia dock, no date. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association.


A post office was established at Cedarhurst in 1912, with Mary Spaulding as postmistress, and closed in 1919.

On the west side Spring Beach, which was a resort for Tacoma residents, had postal service in 1913.

Lueseata Beach opened a post office in 1916, it was at that time a private resort. In 1922 the CampFire Girls started Camp Sealth on the property and the post office name changed to Camp Sealth.

During the steamboat era there were 16 post offices operating on Vashon-Maury at the same time, most located near steamer docks on the water. The isolation of settler life, specially on an island, heightened the importance of communication with the outside world and those back home. Communities developed around the post offices, which often were located in small stores. The location of post offices and stores played an important part in each isolated community’s development and a vital link to communicating with the outside world.




Steamer TYRUS landing passengers from float, no date. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association.


Carolyn Neal and Thomas Janus describe the development of float stops in their book Puget Sound Ferries: From Canoe to Catamaran,

Settlers would form a group, join together cedar logs with three inch wooden pins, use split cedar planks for a floor, attach the whole structure to a chain or thick rope, then move it out to deep watering anchor it with a rock. This “float” became the stopping place for Mosquito Fleet steamers. Passengers would have someone row them out to the float so they could hail a passing steamer.

Floats, as described above, in the book, Puget Sound Ferries, provided a more permanent and stable way to board and load steamers. In a long interview with the Seattle Daily Post Intelligencer, November 16, 1882  Vashon resident, John Banfield gives an insight into life on Vashon and the need for steamer service, in 1882. Banfield described his 160 acres as having a clay and sandy loam soil, with eight acres set aside for orchard with two hundred apple trees of many varieties, a berry patch and kitchen garden and fifteen acres devoted to pasture. The raspberries and strawberries he said, “had already demonstrated the fact that they are at home here.” The paper reported that it was one and a half miles from Banfield’s homestead to the sound, where steamers could land, either at Phinney’s logging camp, Bradford Bay (for some unknown reason both Seattle and Tacoma newspapers of the time called Tramp Harbor, Bradford Bay), or Sherman’s Place on Quartermaster Harbor. The article further reported,

Besides the 16 families in the Banfield settlement (near present day Center), there are, on the east shore of the island six other settlers, and several, the exact number not known-on the west passage. In addition to these, there are two logging camps, in each of which from eight to ten men are employed. These people have no post office and for most needs come to Seattle or Tacoma for their mail and supplies…It is Banfield’s purpose, as soon as he can after his return, to build a float and anchor it in Bradford’s Bay, erroneously called Trump Harbor on the map. Here vessels can land. The float will be under the lee of Point Heyer, a sand spit familiar to all in this section. Efforts have hitherto been made to induce the Olympia boats to make regular calls, but have failed so far. It seems to us that someone of the small steamers or tugs in this trade could arrange for a weekly visit to Mr. Banfield’s float at good advantage.

On the east side of the island float stops were located at Vashon Landing and Trump’s Harbor (at present day Ellisport). On the west side of Island the first float stop was at Hammersmark Landing, about fifty yards north of where the Lisabeula dock was later located, another early float stop was Paige’s Landing, a short distance south of where the Cove dock was later located. Another early float stop was located in Quartermaster Harbor on Sherman’s homestead (on present day Quartermaster Drive).

Leah Baldwin recalled her parents arrival at Cedarhurst,

A dock? Oh no not in those days! Deliveries were left on floats. When Dave’s parents came here they had a walnut table that was too big for either float or rowboat. So they lashed two rowboats together and brought it in with two legs in one boat and two in another.

Lucille Renouf settled at Cove in 1904 recalling,

I landed at Page’s Landing in an open boat. There was no dock, just a float. Whenever anyone wanted to go to Seattle they went out to the float and waited for a steamer to come along and pick them up, there was no schedule, the fare to Seattle was 25 cents…Yes there were a lot of floats around the island and the steamers were supposed to have made arrangements for transportation ashore. But sometimes the fellow on call took his own sweet time to come out. There would be a bunch of passengers getting their feet wet on a half submerged float, and madder than all get out…They used to borrow each others boats too, I remember one fellow who got tired of having a neighbor use his boat to bring in his sacks of feed in every delivery-too stingy to get a boat of his own, or pay for use. So the owner fastened a ‘bumper’ to the keel near the bow so when the fellow got near shore with his heavy load of feed weighing the boat down, it would ‘ground’ about five feet off shore and he’d have to wade ashore one bag at a time until he lightened it enough to get the bow near the water’s edge so he could unload the rest. He never did catch on.




Public road building in King County began in 1852, the earliest road law was enacted in 1854 at the first meeting of the Washington Territorial Legislature, providing for local citizens to petition the county for a public thoroughfare and setting a width of sixty feet. Until the 1890s, roads were considered a local responsibility, supervision fell to an elected county official, but the roads were built and maintained by local residents.

Vashon-Maury was a collection of isolated water-side communities that were connected by steamers, the first roads were not built to connect communities, they were built to connect to steamer landings where passengers and freight could catch a steamer to the mainland. In his memoir of Maury Island pioneer Bill Rendall wrote of the conditions of the early roads on Maury Island,

Though called a county road, this for many years afterwards hardly justified the name, as the greater part of it was only a little wider than a wagon and it took careful driving to clear them all with the wheels, the Salal brush hid many of the logs ends to make it worse. However for a good many years afterwards there were no wagons on the island (Maury), to travel the road, as practically all the hauling done by settlers was by sled, or “go devil”

A “Go Devil.” Marjorie Stanley wrote,

Was a flat heavy wooden sled with wide runners shaped up at the front end. It was used for moving boulders or big pieces of roots. They could be rolled onto the sled when they couldn’t be lifted onto a wagon, and they could go where a wagon couldn’t.

This excerpt from the King County Historic and Scenic Corridors Project describes the road conditions in King County from the 1850s into the 1890s,

Rough traces through the forest primarily serviced wagons and cattle, as well as early coal and lumber activities. Cleared dirt paths wound around the path of least resistance, going over hills and down dales, around large rocks and dense stands of trees, with the primary objective of connecting man, beast, and goods to bodies of water. These early roads were crude jarring and seasonally impassible due to heavy snow, rain or mud.

According to homestead maps created by historian Marshal Sohl there were nearly 100 homesteads claimed on Vashon-Maury by 1883. After an area had been cleared by loggers, or homesteaders, stumps and roots had to be cleared to create land for farming, which had yet to develop other than for sustenance. In his book History of Vashon-Maury Islands, O.S. Van Olinda describes the era

Considerable logging was done in every section…grubbing and burning-almost literally hewing their homes out of solid wood, as the timber was very dense. Powder was costly in those days of lean pocketbooks and practically all clearing was done by “elbow grease” Many new settles came and many new houses were built.

The first county roads led to steamer landings where settlers could find transportation to Seattle and Tacoma. Vashon Island residents submitted petitions for three roads on June 28, 1883, the county approved all three road petitions on August 7, 1883. The petitions laid out the general course of the roads. T.D. Soper and others petitioned a road leading from the center of the Island to the brick yard, post office and float stop at Vashon Landing, designated Road #117, known today as Bank and Soper Roads. Mason Holmes and others petitioned a road that ran from Road #117 south to Sherman’s Lumber Landing on Quartermaster Harbor, designated Road #118, today known as Vashon HWY SW. Edwin Broadway and others petitioned for a road from the center of the Island to Banfield’s float at Ellisport, today know as Cemetery Road and Vashon Ave.



First roads, labeled in dark. King Count Map Vault, 1916 road map, annotated by author.


Early roads were made from gravel, clearing, grading, scrapping, and the hauling of gravel was done by manual labor and horses. There were numerous gravel pits on the island where gravel would be manually shoveled into wagons that had two by four bottoms with the ends shaped for grasping and turning so the gravel dropped through onto the road bed. The gravel roads were laid out flat, over hard pan and clay soils, causing water to settle and not drain off, large chuckholes, ruts from wagon wheels, and mud were a constant battle. In swampy areas corduroy roads were built to aid in traction and draining water from the roadbed. Corduroy roads were built by laying down logs across the roadbed a few inches apart, the space between the logs was filled with gravel to absorb moisture and excess water. The corduroy roads drained well but the logs moved with the fill and underlying ground which tended to shift over time, making for a slow bumpy ride over them. The many creeks and streams were crossed with puncheon and trestle bridges. Puncheon brides were made by laying two logs parallel over the creek or stream, then planking was laid across the logs to create the bridge deck. On larger creeks and ravines trestle bridges were constructed. Karl Steen recalled,

During these years Vashon Island was a busy place. There were six mills, a gravel bunker, a brick-yard, a cannery, a creamery and anyone could get a  job on the road by asking for it. The road boss would say: ‘Have you got a shovel?’ and if you said ‘yes’ then you got the job.

This puncheon bridge was located in Paradise Valley (photo, looking south), on Sw 204th St, over a tributary to Judd Creek, at the bottom of the hill, just north of the intersection with Sw 216th St. Photo, circa 1909, King County Archives, Bridges and Wharves files


In 1889 the first Washington State Legislature passed an act permitting counties to issue bonds for the construction or improvement of roads and bridges. In 1890 a road act was passed with a provision for crowned roads. The act stipulated roads were to be sixty feet wide, with at least a sixteen foot section to be crowned, “not less than twelve inches thick in the center and not less than eight inches at the outer edge.” Crowned roads provided a better drainage and driving surface.

Beginning in 1890 the county began a road and dock construction program, these first roads formed a farm-to-market, road-to-steamer landing network that is the backbone of a north-south, east-west road system that exists to the present day.



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