On December 8, 1923, the Port of Waterman, located northeast of Port Orchard on the Kitsap Peninsula, is formed. Community members proposed the port district to take over a dock owned by the Orchard Beach Improvement Company. Served by Mosquito Fleet steamers that connected towns around Puget Sound, the dock allows passengers and freight access to Seattle, Bremerton, Silverdale, and Bainbridge Island routes. After World War II, increasing numbers of automobiles and bus service will draw passengers away from the steamers and the dock will become a popular local fishing pier.
Farming and Logging
Though largely residential today, in the 1890s the Waterman community had logging operations, a store, a brick and tile manufacturer, and numerous farms. Logging began in 1882, when Delos Waterman (ca. 1828-1895) bought 302 acres of government land. In the absence of roads or railroads connecting the area to mill towns, Waterman used oxen to drag logs to the waterfront, from which he floated log rafts to the mill.
In 1888 Waterman sold his land to William Bremer (1863-1910), from Bremerton across Port Orchard Bay, who sold lots to settlers. John Noreus built Port Orchard Brick and Tile on the waterfront. A couple of bunkhouses, a dock, a store, and a saloon soon followed. A number of farmers planted fruit tree orchards and ran chicken farms.
Residents of the Waterman area had to row their own boats or flag down passing steamers to carry farm produce to markets or to travel between the area's towns and Seattle. Irma Wright Henderson, whose father owned a chicken farm at Waterman around 1900, remembered that when steamers stopped near Waterman, "Any livestock was just dumped overboard to swim ashore as best they could" (Henderson).
Connection By Steamer
In 1899 a float was placed in a nearby cove so that Mosquito Fleet steamers, a fleet of steamships operated by various transportation companies that carried passengers and freight between towns on Puget Sound and Hood Canal, could pick up passengers at Waterman. The steamer Advance stopped once each week on its Seattle-Silverdale run. The Advance had been built in 1899 for a cooperative formed by Bainbridge Island farmers, "for the benefit of the farmer communities whose transportation to this [Seattle] market is wholly by water" ("The Water Front").
The steamer connection drew more settlers to the area and by 1903 the community had daily service to Bremerton, Silverdale, and Seattle. In 1903 Frank Sandell (b. 1865), a farmer, organized the formation of the Orchard Beach Improvement Company to build a dock at Waterman. It was built where the Port of Waterman dock stands today, on Beach Drive E. The dock made daily service possible between Bremerton, Silverdale, and Seattle.
Forming a Public Port
In the early 1920s, the costs associated with running and maintaining the dock grew too large for the Orchard Beach Improvement Company. John Opdal (1879-1940), a Waterman-area chicken farmer who would have relied on the steamers to get his eggs and chickens to markets, spearheaded the effort to form a public port district. The Port District Act of 1911 allowed communities to form port districts, which could levy taxes and develop port facilities.
On December 8, 1923, Waterman voters approved the formation of the port district. The new district encompassed the eastern half of the point of land extending north of Port Orchard toward Rich Passage, from just north of the community of Retsil to Fort Ward.
Originally, the Port planned to rent the dock from the Orchard Beach Improvement Company, with the rental payments to be applied to the future purchase of the dock. After a short time, however, the dock proved to be in such disrepair that the improvement company decided to give the dock to the Port.
The Port's first commissioners, Ephrim Johnson (ca. 1848-1932), a farmer; Raymond Beach (1895-1931), a navy yard employee; and Victor Nelson (b. 1882), listed in the 1920 federal census as a general laborer, issued bonds for the construction of a new dock. The dock, a new freight house, and a new waiting room opened in 1928. Not long after the dock opened, bus service, and car ferries out of Manchester and Bremerton drew passengers away from the Waterman dock. After 1925, just the F.G.Reeves served the dock.
War Years and After
During World War II, when the Puget Sound Navy Yard operated around the clock, the Black Ball Line added a stop at Waterman to its Bainbridge passenger route six times per day, with about 150 passengers each day. The launch service ended in 1945.
After the war, roads improved and cars, buses, and trucks carried more people and freight. The dock has remained, though it has used as a fishing pier. It is well known for its squid fishing. The Port operates lights on the dock that attract the squid after dark. Recently, sea lions feeding in the area have reduced the fishery.
Little Kids Can Touch the Water
Although the port is one of the smallest in the state, it is an excellent example of one of the important roles envisioned for public ports when the Port District Act was passed in 1911. Most of the beach along Rich Passage, the waterway into which the Port of Waterman dock extends, is privately held. The dock allows area residents who do not own waterfront property access to the shoreline.
When United States Navy ships travel through Rich Passage on their way to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, people fill the dock at Waterman to watch the enormous ships slide by.
Jack McCarn, one of the Port of Waterman's commissioners, summarized the essence of the Port's role in the community when he explained that the Port's dock, "Keeps access open so little kids can touch the water and taste the salt and turn rocks over to see the crabs. They can look at the pilings and see the anemones and the starfish."
Ports like Waterman ensure that everyone can experience one of our region's natural wonders.