Port of Edmonds is created by popular vote on December 7, 1948.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 6/05/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9446
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On December 7, 1948, voters within the proposed Port of Edmonds district overwhelmingly approve port formation and elect commissioners T. P. Chittenden, E. E. Hopper and William M. Ryan. The first order of business is to build a new and much needed ferry dock, which is leased to the state in 1951. That same year Port Commissioner Hopper proposes a small-boat harbor and in 1961 the Port begins converting the once lumber-dominated port into the Edmonds Boat Haven, the beginning of the harbor as it is today.  Severe snow damage in December 1996 will collapse roofs at the marina, damaging over 200 boats. Cleanup will allow the Port to rebuild a modern and better marina. In 2005 the Port will initiate a program to entice visiting boaters to Edmonds and begin building a public plaza that includes a park, stores, and restaurants both to draw tourists and locals to the Port of Edmonds site, while also offering visitors scenic vistas of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.The Edmonds/Kingston ferry dock today (2011) is one of the busiest in the Washington State Ferries system.

Location, Location, Location

Edmonds’ early settlement hugged the shoreline and by the early twentieth century the city’s waterfront economy depended on shingle mills, boat houses, and easy access to rail routes.   

By 1923 Edmonds was offering car ferry service to Kingston aboard a 56-foot vessel that could transport 12 cars.  Operated first by the Joyce brothers (Olaf, Alfred, Clarence, Arthur, and Percy), and then the Black Ball Ferry Line, and finally by the state when it assumed control of ferries in 1951. The Edmonds-Kingston dock quickly became a major car ferry terminus, linking the populous east side of Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula.

Severe storms often pounded the harbor. This threat spurred the business community to form the Edmonds Port Association, which then gathered support to build a protective breakwater, which was completed in October of 1946. 

Port of Edmonds Development 

The Edmonds Port district was created by popular vote on December 7, 1948, 94 percent of voters approving the measure.  There had been talk that the Port of Everett planned to expand its districts to include the Edmonds area and formation of a Port of Edmonds strongly appealed to residents wishing to keep local control of their waterfront economy. 

First commissioners were T. P. Chittenden, E. E. Hopper and William M. Ryan.  An early item of business was to build a new ferry dock which they leased to the state.  Port commissioners continued to acquire land from both private businesses and the state for a boat harbor and a public beach.    

An Eventful Year -- 1951   

Although shingle mills sustained the town from its beginnings through the Great Depression, by the 1950s most had disappeared and Edmonds sought new waterfront commerce. The town’s last mill, Quality Shingle Company, closed June 1, 1951.     

The year 1951 was also when Washington state began operating the car ferry from Edmonds and when Port Commissioner E. E. Hopper proposed a plan to build a first-class small-boat marina that would be called the Edmonds Boat Harbor. 

Developing the Edmonds Boat Harbor    

In order to improve the site, Chauncey’s old boathouse -- once a place where prize fighters trained -- was purchased by the Port and torn down and negotiations began to obtain property from Union Oil (UNOCAL), which had been on the Edmonds waterfront since 1922.  Agreement was reached in 1957, the legal settlement requiring the Port to develop the property within five years.

Funded with $1.15 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port began constructing the breakwater and what is now the south marina, the project dedicated by Senator Henry M. Jackson in 1962.  The north marina and breakwater were completed in 1969 at a cost of $1.18 million with 468 covered and 273 open slips. 

It’s An Ill Wind 

On December 29, 1996, a winter storm hit the Puget Sound region, leaving between 14 and 20 inches of heavy, wet snow. Roofs collapsed at the Port of Edmonds Marina, sinking more than 200 boats and damaging hundreds of others. The snow, which blanketed the Pacific Northwest between Christmas 1996 and New Year's Day, also damaged marinas at Oak Harbor, Kingston, Port Orchard, and the Port of Everett, but the Edmonds marina was the hardest hit. Other Port of Edmonds’ properties also suffered damage due to winds, high tide, and heavy rain that followed the snowfall. No lives were lost, although accidents were reported. The event made national news for several days.  

Cost for cleanup and repairs was estimated at $15 million. Edmonds city officials quickly exempted the Port from the usual permit process in order to hasten marina rebuilding. The Port immediately initiated plans for a new and better marina.  A cooperative effort between local, state, and federal agencies yielded $13 million which not only allowed the Port of Edmonds to reconstruct but also to design and build a first-class marina. This time the new Edmonds Marina was built with concrete and steel.  In 1998-1999 a pedestrian bridge was added, connecting the Marina to Marina Beach Park.  The promenade created a continuous pedestrian walkway from the Edmonds fishing pier to the park.  A dry storage facility was completed in 2001 to accommodate 300 boats.

Today’s Port of Edmonds 

In 2005 the Port initiated a program to entice visiting boaters to Edmonds, hoping to increase use of waterfront businesses and recent plans are being considered to better connect the waterfront district with downtown commerce.  The Port now offers boaters -- many of whom are sports fishermen -- launching,  transporting, fueling, and storage services, as well as providing guest moorage and the Edmonds-Kingston car ferry continues to be one of the heaviest-used docks in the state’s ferry system.   The present Port of Edmonds’ public plaza includes a park, stores and restaurants that draw both tourists and locals to a site that also offers scenic vistas of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. 


Linda W. Y. Parrish, Marc Ramirez, David Schaefer, "Hundreds of Boat Owners See Dreams Sink Under Weight of Collapsed Marina Sheds," The Seattle Times, December 30, 1996, p. A-1; Tina Anima, "Everett Marina Counts Its Blessings -- Fast Action Keeps Boats Afloat, Roofs Up Despite Snow," Ibid., January 10, 1997; "Edmonds Clears Way for Rebuilding Marina," Ibid., February 25, 1967, p. B. 1; Mina Williams, "Edmonds’ Marina Gets Boaters in the Water with Speed and Care," The Herald, May 3, 2010 (http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20100503/BIZ/705039889); "A Brief History of the Port of Edmonds," Port of Edmonds website accessed on April 25, 2010 (http://www.portofedmonds.org/history.pdf); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Edmonds -- Thumbnail History," (by Charles Le Warne) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8542 (accessed May 5, 2010); Ray V. Cloud, Edmonds, the Gem of Puget Sound: A History of the City of Edmonds (Edmonds, Washington: Edmonds Tribune-Review Press, 1983), 64.
Note: This essay was revised on February 23, 2011.

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