In 1869 the territorial legislature passed an act giving countys the right to regulate roads, ferries and bridges. While the county had the right to regulate the building of docks, there was no permit or permission required of property owners to build docks, leaving few records of who, where and when docks were built.

Float docks were constructed from logs, typically two logs were strapped together, side by side and end to end, cedar planks were attached to the top of the logs, creating a floating walkway which was attached to pilings or anchors. A float was attached to the end of the floating walkway for the steamer to tie up and load and unload. Floating docks were cheap to construct, they rose and fell with the tide, but strong currents, wind and heavy loads made them unstable. According to O.S. Van Olinda by the late 1800s an average of over four hundred crates per day of produce were hauled off the east side of Vashon alone, imagine loading produce onto a steamer, walking down a bobbing, slimy floating dock; now imagine it being a typical windy rainy day, more than a few were sure to have fallen into the cold water. Despite the unstable walkway, float docks were a more efficient way for passengers and freight to be loaded onto the steamers.


float dock
A typical style float dock, Clam Cove (Tahlequah), no date. Photo, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association


J.C. Walls wrote of building a floating dock around 1890, “We built a floating dock out of logs which answered as a make-shift (dock), at Colvos for years.” Marjorie Stanley recalled the float dock at the Vashon Landing a mile east of the town of Vashon,

The dock was the early entrance to the central Vashon area. In the very early days it was only a float, connected to the shore by the usual narrow walkway lying along floating logs. It was certainly a lot better than having to wait for a rowboat to come out and pluck them from a pitching float as they had in earlier days-or having to drop direct from the steamer deck into a plunging rowboat as they had before that.

In 1887 the Tacoma Yacht Club bought property at present day Manzanita to develop for members use. The club built a private dock, ten acres were cleared, a large club house and a number of cottages were built. The club was busy with members and visitors from other yacht clubs. This was the first of many private resort docks around Vashon-Maury.

As noted earlier, in the Post Office & Store Establishment section, a float dock was built just west of present day KVI beach in 1888 to accommodate the Chautauqua attendees and local community. During the Chautauqua years the dock was bustling with tourists, the Chautauqua started a tourist industry that would flourish on Vashon-Maury Islands during the steamer era. Chautauqua events included campfires, excursion cruises, clambakes, concerts in a 1,200 seat pavilion, study groups and outdoor activities. The dock was situated at the bottom of a high bank and while it worked well for passengers who could walk the beach trail to Chautauqua it was not accessible to freight wagons.


Side wheel steamer NORTH PACIFIC, and steamer LYDIA THOMPSON tied up to the Chautauqua float dock, Photo, O.S. Van Olinda, 1892. University of Washington Special Collection, UW 424


In 1890 Jedidhia Paige homesteaded on the west side of the island and cleared a road through his land down to the beach, where passing steamers could be hailed, this became known as Paige’s Landing. Soon after a float was put in, and later a float dock. Knut Paulson recalled,

The farmers for miles around would use this landing as a port of call for farm produce and supplies, conveying their burdens with horses and sleds, the latter, because they were narrower than wagons.


paige rd
Road #219 to Paige’s Landing, (in red), no longer exists, originally the road began at the west end of Bank Rd Sw (in green), intersecting with Thorsen Road ( in green), at the present day corner at Agren Park. Road #219 continued west until reaching Colvos Pass, just south of Beulah Park. If you look close at the entrance of Agren Park there is still a private road heading west, this is the remains of Road #219 commonly know as Paige’s Road. Cove Road (blue), to the north. King County Map Vault map.


Float docks were a big improvement for loading passengers and freight onto steamers, but as the amount of passengers, freight and size of steamers grew there arose a need for larger more stable docks that could reach deep water.




In 1917 Carleton Greene wrote, Piers, Their Design Construction and Equipment, in which he describes dock construction methods of the late 1800s, noting that the basic requirements for a wharf of the era included the following; sufficient water depth for the vessels using it; resistance to horizontal forces like the impact of vessels, currents, wind and waves; resistance to vertical forces, the weight of the structure and the loads it supports; resistance to decay, abrasion, teredo, limnoria and other destructive marine animals; elasticity as to not injure vessels docked alongside; allowing the free flow of tidal water; economical construction, considering not only the cost of building but the cost of repairs over the life of the dock; security from destruction by fire; ease in making repairs; and compliance with any regulations. In addition to the requirements outlined by Greene, Puget Sound steamer docks required a float and ramp for loading passengers and freight at different tide heights. Farm-to-market docks required enough width for wagons to be able to turn around at the end of the dock, and a storage shed for produce waiting to be loaded.

Timber was plentiful and a cheap material for the construction of docks, however it was susceptible to destruction by decay and marine animals. Destructive marine animals of one form or another thrive in nearly all salt and brackish harbors. Puget Sound is noted for the size of it’s teredos, a type of clam that burrows into pilings and destroys them from the inside. Early docks on Puget Sound, including the first private docks on Vashon-Maury used untreated Douglas Fir timbers with the bark left on, for pilings, these untreated pilings had a short lifespan.

In 1881 a wood preserving plant was built on Bainbridge Island, at Bill Point, in Eagle Harbor. Preservative treatment was a matter of economic necessity by the turn of the century because the damage to timbers from immersion in water and exposure to the elements often made it necessary to replace untreated structural timber after a short time. J.M. Coleman started a treatment plant using creosote in 1884, on Elliott Bay, at the foot of what became the Denny Regrade area. It was later moved to West Seattle. Carleton Greene describes the early creosoting process,

Various forms of coal tar products are used to preserve wood in wharves and piers from destruction by marine borers and from decay. Wood may be treated by the pressure pro-cess, in which the material is placed in a closed cylinder and after being treated with steam to remove the sap is then impregnated with the preservative under heavy pressure. A sufficient amount of the creosote remains in the wood, but sooner or later enough of the preservative washes out and borers enter. On the Pacific Coast, where teredo is very active, creosote piles are said to have one year for each pound of creosote to a cubic foot. The usual practice is to impregnate to a depth of about two inches.

In 1876 Joe Surber established a marine pile driver on the water front of the young city of Seattle. Sturber drove pile for trestles and wharfs on the city’s tideflats. David B. Williams wrote of Sturber’s pile driver on his GeologyWriter.com blog,

Sitting on a barge-like boat was a pile driver, which Struber would use to drive pilings, or wood logs, into the tideflats of the Duwamish River…Pile drivers, which have been around at least since the Romans, operate by dropping a heavy iron weight on the end of the pile. Two whacks of the 3,000 pound hammer would push the piles down through the soft mud to the harder material below, with more blows, sometimes over 150 required to sink the log to a stable depth. Pile drivers used on Puget Sound in the 1890s struck seventy blows per minute, putting in from 26 to 200 piles per day.


1 pile-driver-surber
Surber’s Pile Driver, (unknown origin), no date, geologywriter.com


Pete Manson had been working on a pile driver in Tacoma when he packed up his family and moved them to a shack near the Dockton Dry Dock on Maury Island, where he found a job, his brother John and brother-in-law also got jobs at the dry dock. In 1905 Pete Manson acquired a pile driver and began Manson Construction at Dockton.





Prior to 1900 all docks were privately built and owned, pursuant to legislation dating back to 1854, giving county commissioners power to authorize the private erection of wharves on property owned by the petitioner.

By a territorial law (Laws Wash.Terr. 1854, p. 357), it was provided that any person owning land adjoining any navigable waters or watercourse within or bordering upon the territory might erect upon his own land any wharf or wharves, and might extend them so far into said waters or watercourses as the convenience of shipping might require, and that when-ever any person should be desirous of erecting upon his own land any wharf at the terminus of any highway, or at any accustomed landing place, he might apply to the county commissioners of the proper county, who, if they should be satisfied that the public convenience required the wharf, might authorize the same to be erected and kept up for any length of time, not exceeding twenty years.

The first dock built under the territorial law was Yesler’s Wharf at the foot of Yesler Way in Seattle. According to territorial records, Yesler’s Wharf operated without proper authorization from 1853 to 1868, when the county commissioner recorded a permit to H.L. Yesler for a ten year period.

It took nearly ten years from a 1882, Tacoma Daily Ledger article, suggesting a wharf be built on Vashon, until a steamer dock was built on Quartermaster Harbor by S. D. Sherman (at present day Quartermaster Drive, west of Monument Road). According to Marshal Sohl’s research Sherman’s dock was the first pile driven piling dock on Vashon-Maury Island. 

S.D. Sherman’s dock, built in 1889, later King County took over the dock and it became known as the Quartermaster Dock. Photo, circa 1890, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association.


Industry in the harbor led to the development of other docks. Hatch’s saw mill (at present-day Camp Burton), had a dock out to deep water where ships could be loaded. The Dockton Dry Dock, which opened in 1891, had an extensive dock. The Bleeker brick yard (at present day Governors Row on the Burton peninsula), and the Burrows brick yard (at Shawnee), both had docks. The docks were not only important for their business use, they also provided an important transportation link, as a large portion of the workers commuted by steamer from Tacoma.

In 1890 the North Tacoma Improvement Land Company bought hundreds of acres at the tip of Maury Island in the area around Point Piner. The first improvement on the property was the construction of the largest dock on the island at Point Piner, a road was built couple hundred feet up from the beach. Bunk and boarding house were built for a large crew of woodcutters and teamsters to cut the timber into cordwood and haul it to the dock, later a chute was built to slide the wood down the hill to the dock where it was piled. Pioneer Bill Rendall wrote of the dock in his memoir,

Arrangements were made with the regular steamers plying between Olympia and Tacoma and Tacoma and Seattle to make daily at their dock for passengers and freight, at one time there were twelve daily trips to Tacoma…The company persuaded the steamers to get their fuel from their dock…There was practically no hour of the day when one or more steamers, ranging from the large Sound liners down to freighter steamers and tugs, could not be seen at their dock taking on fuel, as well as freight and passengers.

Rendall goes on to recount how the panic and major depression of the 1890s led to the developers lose everything they had invested and abandon the development, he does not recount what became of the dock.

Prior to 1890 when, King County was granted authority to take over and maintain wharves, there were few piling docks other than at commercial locations like mills and brick yards. In 1890 the county began a process of connecting roads and docks. By 1900 the county began investing on road and dock infrastructure on Vashon, covered in the next section.




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