Dockton drydock begins operations on Maury Island in the spring of 1892.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 8/01/2002
  • Essay 3910

In the spring of 1892, a massive drydock -- a floating structure from which water can be removed to build or repair ships -- begins operations at Dockton on Maury Island. The drydock establishes Dockton as an important early ship building port, even after the dock is sold and towed away in 1909.

High and Dry

The 325-foot long, 102-foot wide drydock was originally built for use in Port Townsend, but just as construction was nearing completion, the bottom fell out of the Port Townsend real estate market. The structure was sold and towed south to the sheltered cove of Quartermaster Harbor between Vashon and Maury islands.

Once the dock was put into place, the community that sprouted up around it was named Dockton. The drydock was one of the largest on the Pacific Coast, and some ship owners on Puget Sound now had to get their iron work done on the tiny island, not Seattle or Tacoma to which they had been accustomed.

Drydock workers originally had to commute by steamer from Tacoma, but a hotel was quickly built to house them during the week. One of the first boats repaired in the dock was the Wetmore, a whaleback steamer built at West Superior, Wisconsin, and brought to the Northwest by way of South America. Later that year, the Wetmore's sister ship, the City of Everett, and the Hyacinth, a British warship, were brought in for repairs.

Dockton After the Dock

At first, 80 men worked at the dock, but soon hundreds more were hired. For more than 10 years, many ships found their way into the drydock, but by the early 1900s work became more sporadic. Many of the dock workers who lived in Dockton began moonlighting at nearby shipyards or on local construction projects.

In 1905, John T. Heffernan, who owned the Heffernan Engine Works in Seattle, bought the drydock and planned on moving it to his business. Possibly owing to dredging and filling that was going on in the tide flats near his property, the dock was not towed away until 1909.

Meanwhile, Dockton workers were faced with losing their namesake industry. By the time the dock left, several shipbuilding ventures were in place, the largest of which was the Martinolich Shipyards. Some traffic was lost along with the dock, but business prospered in the community nevertheless, at a time when vast numbers of steamers and fishing boats were skimming the waves of Puget Sound.

Maritime business was good in Dockton, up until the Depression of the 1930s. The Martinolich sons retired, and shipyard operations ceased. With the onset of World War II, newer and larger facilities in Tacoma, Bremerton, Everett, and Seattle came into play, and the heyday of Dockton's shipbuilding and boat repair days was over.


Roland Carey, Van Olinda's History of Vashon-Maury Island (Seattle: Alderbrook Publishing Co., 1985), 35, 48; Marj Watkins and Garland Norin, The Past Remembered (Vashon: Island Industries, 1978), 122-123; "Dockton, The Shipyard Years," Sea Chest , September, 1969, pp. 1-14; Murray Morgan, The Last Wilderness (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1955), 90-100.
Note: This essay was corrected on December 20, 2006, to identify the owner of the Heffernan Engine works as John T. Heffernan.

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