Lee Shipyard, first business on Sand Point (Lake Washington), opens about 1886.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 3/15/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2306
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In about 1886, Edward F. Lee (1840-1928) acquires land near Pontiac Bay, Sand Point, establishes a shipyard and a farm, and by 1892 becomes postmaster of Pontiac Post Office. The Lee Shipyard, one of the first businesses along the west shore of Lake Washington, likely built the following ships that plied Lake Washington and Puget Sound: Squak, Laura Maud, Elfin, Hattie Hansen (aka Sechelt), Mist.

From Norway to Seattle

Edward Lee, born in Norway in 1840, apparently first came to the United States at the age of 20. In 1862, he was back in Norway and married Caroline L. (1845-1925). Three years later, Edward returned to the United States destined for Chicago, leaving his wife in Norway. In 1872, after getting established and earning enough money, he sent for his wife. They lived in Omaha, Nebraska, for at least six years before moving to Seattle in 1883.

The Lees arrived at Seattle just at the start of a depression that would last about three years. Edward managed to get a job as a ship carpenter employed by Alexander Allen who operated Allen’s Ship Ways located next to the barrel factory in "North Seattle." At the time, North Seattle referred to the area that later became known as Belltown, separated from the main district of Seattle by Denny Hill.

To Build a Ship

By no later than the summer of 1886, Edward Lee struck out on his own and purchased land along the west shore of Lake Washington for a shipyard to build and repair ships plying the lake. Below is a list of likely ships and boats constructed at the Lee shipyard. This was called Lee’s place until in 1889 the Pontiac Brick and Tile Company established a brickyard nearby. The following year the Pontiac Post Office opened. In 1892, the U.S. Post Office Department appointed Edward Lee postmaster of Pontiac, a position he held for 17 years. Upon his retirement, the post office closed.

In 1892, the Lees' real estate included about 60 acres of land less the area taken for the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad line built in 1887. The Lees cleared about 19 acres for their farming activities that supplemented and sometimes supplanted their income when the shipbuilding business was slow. Based on the future street grid, their property was located between about NE 73rd and NE 80th streets and 55th Avenue NE and 60th Avenue NE. Because of the terrain of the land, the Lee shipyard and farm were located east of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad line (the present-day route of the Burke-Gilman Trail).

Edward Lee retired in 1909, and the family moved to the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle where they lived for about 10 years before returning to Sand Point to live with their daughter and son-in-law Eva and Harold Jorgenson. After the death of Caroline Lee in 1925, the Jorgensons and Edward Lee moved to Ballard where the elder Lee resided until his death in 1928.

The Ships Lee Built

The history of boat building on Lake Washington is murky. Following are the possible boats built at Edward Lee’s shipyard, with a sketch of each ship.

Squak (1884)

The steam screw Squak was built in 1884 for Capt. J. C. O’Conner. If Lee’s Sand Point shipyard was not yet established, he could have built the boat near where Capt. O’Conner lived at what later became Kirkland between Moss and Yarrow Bays. The passenger, towing, and freighting steamboat was 41 feet long. It traveled around Lake Washington and up Squak Slough and Squak Lake (renamed Sammamish Slough and Lake Sammamish) to Tibbets Landing (site of Issaquah). The Squak was destroyed in a December 25, 1890, storm while tied up at Moss Bay.

Laura Maud (1887)

In 1887, Capt. J. C. O’Conner commissioned the steam scow Laura Maud to be built. The steamboat ran on Lake Washington between Juanita and Portage Bay near Lake Union.

Elfin (1891)

Edward F. Lee in 1891 built the steamboat Elfin for Capt. Frank Curtis. Captain Curtis, was commander of the Squak when it sank in a Christmas 1890 storm. He decided to own his own boat and hired Lee to built him one 60 feet long with a 13.5-foot-wide beam. When she was launched in April 1891, the Lake Washington steamers Kirkland and Mary Kraft came just offshore to greet the newly christened Elfin. On July 4, 1891, the steamboat carried its first passengers. Frank Curtis was the commander, and the crew consisted of his sons Al Curtis and Walter Curtis, mate and deckhand respectively, and Irving Leake, engineer. The Elfin could run 12 miles per hour, carry 35 passengers, and transport two and a half tons of freight. The schedule of six round trips a day started at 7:10 a.m. from Northup’s Landing (renamed Yarrow Bay), Kirkland, and Houghton on the east side of Lake Washington to the foot of Seattle’s Madison Street on the west side of the lake, for a fare of 10 cents each way. During the first year or two of operation, the most passengers she carried in one day was 180. During the first half of 1892 the Elfin averaged 1,070 passengers a month. The steamboat was remodeled in 1896 perhaps by Lee. She served as a Lake Washington passenger boat until in the early morning hours of December 2, 1900, while tied up, a fire gutted and destroyed her.

Hattie Hansen (1893)

Capt. J. C. O’Conner hired Edward Lee in 1893 to build another steamer for the Lake Washington trade. Before she was completed, Capt. O’Conner sold her to Ole L. Hansen (1875-1940), who christened her the Hattie Hansen. The steamer was 71 feet long and 15 feet wide, and had a six-and-a-half-foot hold to carry freight. Hansen sent her through the Black River (a river which dried up when the Lake Washington Ship Canal opened) and Duwamish River and added her to the Puget Sound mosquito fleet of passenger and freight ships that provided the main form of transportation around Puget Sound. The ship served on numerous runs in Puget Sound including the Seattle to Bainbridge Island to Dogfish Bay (Poulsbo) run, for a brief time on the Hood Canal US mail run, and from Everett to Coupeville on Whidbey Island. By no later than 1910, the Hattie Hansen was sold to British Columbia interests, renamed the Sechelt, and placed on the Sechelt to Vancovuer run. In March 1911, the steamer’s run was changed to the Victoria–Sooke route. On March 24, 1911, just a few days after she started this route, the Sechelt left Victoria with a crew of four and about 30 passengers, most bound for Peddler Bay to work for the Canadian Northern railway. The ship entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and was hit with strong winds and heavy waves that caused her to founder and sink. Only 13 survivors managed to reach shore.

Mist (1896)

Captain Frank Curtis commissioned Edward Lee to build another steamer for the Lake Washington trade. Captain Curtis intended his sons to operate the boat. After Lee launched it in the summer 1896, it turned out to be a slower boat than expected and Curtis tied the boat up and gave it limited use.


Arlene Ely, Our Foundering Fathers: The Story of Kirkland (Kirkland: Kirkland Public Library, 1975), 76, 77, 78; R. L. Polk & Company, Inc. Seattle City Directory 1921 (Seattle: R. L. Polk &Co., Inc., 1921), and Seattle city directories, 1889-1924; R.L. Polk & Co, Oregon, Washington and Idaho Gazetteer and Business Directory No. 5, 1891-92 (Portland, OR: R. L. Polk & Co, 1892), 932; Ibid., 1901, p. 604; Ibid., 1903-1904, p. 669; Ibid., 1905-1906, p. 837; Ibid., 1907-1908, p. 953; Ibid., 1909-1910, p. 944; Ibid., 1913-1914, p. 822; Guy Reed Ramsey, “Postmarked Washington 1850-1960” (microfilm at Washington State Library, Olympia, 1966), 627; U.S. Census 12th (1900), "Population Schedules King County, Washington, Enumeration District 79 Union Precinct," Sheet 3B, 4A, 4B, Microfilm Edition, Seattle Public Library, Downtown Branch; U.S. Census 13th (1910), "Population Schedules King County, Washington Enumeration District 57, Yesler Precinct," Sheets 1A-9A, Microfilm Edition, Seattle Public Library, Downtown Branch; Biography Clipping Files for Edward Lee and family from Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 12, 1912, February 9, 1925, January 2, 1928, Seattle Times January 2, 1928 in University of Washington Library, Special Collections; The H. W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by Gordon Newell (Seattle: The Superior Publishing Company, 1966), 4, 13, 14-15, p 49, 64, 70, 75, 76, 88, 193-194, 194 FN 11; Lewis & Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by E. W. Wright (Portland, OR: Lewis & Dryden Printing Co, 1895), 307, 322, 346; Helen Durrie Goodwin, “Shipbuilding in the Pacific Northwest” The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3 (July 1920), 183-201; Lucile McDonald and Hemion, “Lake Washington Shipyard” The Sea Chest, Vol. 11, No. 4 (June 1978), 130; Lucile McDonald, The Lake Washington Story (Seattle: Superior Publishing Company, 1979), 34-35, 58.

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