Port of Anacortes is formed by public vote on November 22, 1926.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 10/30/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9626

On November 22, 1926, voters approve the creation of the Port of Anacortes and elect three commissioners: W. F. McCracken, Howard J. Sackett, and E. C. Howe.  Hoping to build a major maritime port, commissioners will draft the Port's first bond issue for harbor improvements and in August 1927, citizens will pass the bond measure in the amount of $93,000 for acquisition of tidelands and waterfront acreage and to fund port expansion. Despite hard economic times, the Port will build its first dock in 1931 and will set shipping records in 1939.  Washington State Ferries will lease land from the Port of Anacortes at Ship Harbor.  In 1968 the Port will build the Anacortes Airport, one of two port-owned airports in Skagit County. In 2008 the Washington Public Ports Association will select the Port of Anacortes as its Port of the Year, the honor given for working with the Department of Ecology to clean up contamination of Port-owned property.  That year the Port of Anacortes will also receive the American Association of Port Authorities Environmental Award and the Clean Marina Washington Award.  Gateway to the San Juan Islands, the Port of Anacortes lies within the city of Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, in Skagit County.

A Dream Harbor

By the early 1870s there were a number of permanent white settlers on Fidalgo Island, partially drawn by speculation that the Northern Pacific Railroad would build a terminus at Fidalgo Bay. Hazard Stevens (1842-1918), son of Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862), had claimed land at Ship Harbor, fueling the speculation. But railroad plans did not materialize and in 1877 Stevens’ daughter Maude sold the property -- 168 acres at what would become Anacortes -- to Amos Bowman (1839-1894) and Anna Curtis Bowman (1846-1906). Amos chose to name the town in his wife’s honor.        

Bowman envisioned the harbor on Fidalgo Bay as a bustling seaport, close to major waterways, nearby islands, and the mainland.  In his words, "from this sheltered body of water are seen radiating five or six different channels, or waterways, each of them possessing individual merits, either for direction for local commercial traffic or for facility of approach for coasting and seagoing craft from any direction, north, south, east or west” (Berentson). Bowman established a post office, built a house and a wharf and started a newspaper. With hopes of a shipping future for Anacortes, Amos Bowman created and disseminated a map of Puget Sound and the area around Anacortes. 

The Anacortes harbor became a busy seaport in the early 1900s with a fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding, and mill economy that included sawmills, box mills, pulp, plywood, and veneer factories. By 1915 11 canneries were operating along the Guemes Channel.

The 1920s and Port Incorporation 

Anacortes again dreamed big in the prosperous 1920s, hoping to become a major maritime port.  On November 22, 1926, voters approved the creation of the Port of Anacortes in a vote of 1,453 to 253 and elected three commissioners: W. F. McCracken, Howard J. Sackett, and E. C. Howe. They drafted the Port’s first bond issue for harbor improvements in 1927 to carry out their plans. Voters were warned that failure to support the funding could lead to the city’s stagnation.  On August 27, 1927, citizens approved a bond measure in the amount of $93,000 for acquisition of tidelands and waterfront acreage and to fund port expansion.

Specifically the Port purchased the Great Northern Railway dock and improvements, 300 feet of water frontage and 10 vacant lots between 1st Street and 2nd Street ($17,000); tidelands and water frontage on Cap Sante waterway and deep frontage on Fidalgo Bay from 6th to 12th streets ($15,500); additional uplands, tidelands and water frontage ($8,250). The acquired property provided for a downtown dock and warehouses, industrial sites, assembly tracks, and rail terminal yards. In the Port commissioners’ words:

“the future of Anacortes lies in commerce and manufacturing, as it is without tributary agricultural country, and is determined to make industrial sites easy of acquirement by a manufacturer and to make its docks and port equipment usable by all steamship lines at equal rates, and to make a monopoly impossible, and to make it impossible for speculators to prevent the use of needed industrial sites or water frontage”  (Berentson).

The Port completed its first dock on January 1, 1931, and continued development plans despite the hard times of the Great Depression. The Port of Anacortes advertised that its rates for storage, wharfage, and handling were the lowest in Puget Sound and that the Port could provide efficient loading of cargo and dispatch of ships.  The Port’s new warehouses stored and shipped Skagit County oats, seeds, vegetables, thousands of cases of salmon, and canned milk, butter, and cheese from a Mount Vernon cannery.  The Port set new shipping records in 1939.

The present five-commissioner district boundaries was approved by voters in a special election on September 17, 2002. Proposition No. 1 increased the number of commissioner districts from three to five, each with its own commissioner. Prior to this the Port had three commissioner districts with five commissioners, two of which were “at-large.”  The Port Commission redistricted and adopted its present five districts, each with its own commissioner, on January 22, 2003.

Anacortes Airport and Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries leases property from the Port of Anacortes at Ship Harbor and makes runs to Lopez Island, Friday Harbor, Shaw Island, Orcas Island, and Sydney, B.C. 

About one mile south is the 196-acre Anacortes Airport, built by the Port of Anacortes in 1968.  It is one of two port-owned airports in Skagit County; the other is owned by the Port of Skagit County. 

The Anacortes Airport is currently recognized as the 12th busiest commercial passenger airport in the state.  San Juan Airlines offers passenger, charter, and scenic flights daily to and from Seattle, the San Juan Islands, Bellingham, and British Columbia. The airport also provides aircraft service, maintenance, fueling, and tie downs.     

2008 Port of the Year

In 2008 the Washington Public Ports Association gave its Port of the Year Award to the Port of Anacortes.  WPPA President Bill Clark, commissioner for the Port of Pasco, made the announcement during the association’s annual meeting in Tacoma held on November 21, 2008. The Port was honored for its work with the Washington State Department of Ecology in cleaning up contamination at Port-owned properties, in conjunction with Governor Gregoire’s Puget Sound Initiative. 

Called Focus Fidalgo, the project initiated five cleanup efforts and the Port continues to remove toxins from nearshore, upland, and marine environments as well as restoring critical aquatic habitat. Cleanup projects make new public facilities possible and create more public waterfront access as well as generating new family-wage jobs.  

A $5.3 million remediation project (completed in July 2008) took place at the Cap Sante Boat Haven west basin area where 13,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed from historic fuel leaks. The Port’s substantial improvements at the Boat Haven led to new economic opportunities for the Port and the city of Anacortes.  The Port was also honored in 2008 with the Clean Marina Washington award. Established in 1987, The Port of the Year Award recognizes leadership and innovation in economic development. 

The Port is currently (2010) working on its third environmental cleanup, this one at the Seafarers' Memorial Park along Fidalgo Bay. It is a $28 million project in partnership with former site owner Kimberly Clark and with the Department of Ecology. The project involves restoring the former Scott Paper Mill site (formerly the Morrison Mill site) by removal of toxins from nearshore, upland, and marine environments; restoring aquatic habitat; and creating new public facilities and public access areas. This cleanup is expected to generate some $10 million in wages to local contractors and material suppliers, which will translate into family-wage jobs and a boost to the local economy.

Petroleum and Prilled Sulphur

The Alaska connection is huge for the Port of Anacortes.  Dozens of Alaskan fishing boats continue to dock at the Port of Anacortes, but oil is a bigger money connection. Crude petroleum from the Alaskan North Slope (Valdez land port) and indeed from all over the world is shipped into refineries on Fidalgo Bay. The refineries are not located on Port-owned properties but oil refining has been an important industry for Anacortes since the 1950s and impacts Port plans.  Presently Shell Puget Sound Refinery (Shell and Texaco) and Tesoro Anacortes Refinery are located on Fidalgo Bay where they convert crude petroleum into gasoline, aviation and diesel fuel, liquid petroleum gas, coke, and sulfur. In April 2010 an explosion at the Tesoro Refinery resulted in seven deaths.

The Port of Anacortes is now planning to be a partner with the refineries and a Marsulex plant in Mount Vernon. Waste (liquid sulphur) will be trucked from the refineries to Marsulex where it will be processed into prilled sulphur, a product used to make fertilizer and other petrochemicals for export.  Presently the largest importer for the product is China. The Port will then truck the prilled sulphur (dried yellow granules by this time) back to its docks for shipping.  The Port has a plan to deal with potential air quality issues in the trucking and feels it can be done cleanly, with no open storage.  The process recycles waste and is expected to bring new money and jobs.  Partners would include Shell Oil, Tesoro, BP, Conoco, Chevron, US Oil and Montana refineries, the city of Anacortes, and others.         

Today’s Port  

Anacortes has shifted away from its earlier waterfront industries and has been extremely well positioned to profit from tourism, certainly as the connecting point to the San Juans and Canada. But in recent years the city has advertised itself as a destination rather than merely a gateway. 

Positioning itself for change, the Port of Anacortes initiated a long-range plan in 2008 and defined its focus as economic development, environmental stewardship, and public access endeavors.  The Port’s new mission states that it will continue management of its Port properties, stimulate jobs and commerce, and protect the quality of life for area residents. 

The Port of Anacortes encompasses approximately 100 square miles and offers a natural deep water port for shipping bulk goods to the Pacific Rim, Canada, and Alaska. 

The Port oversees four facilities: 

  • The Cap Sante Boat Haven (the Marina and public park) is a customs port-of-entry and supports commercial fishing vessels needing deep water moorage. Available for guest moorage are 950 slips and berths. Tenants at this facility include Anthony’s Restaurant; Island Adventures and Mystic Sea Charters (whale-watching tours); Nordic Northwest Yachts; Top Cat Engineering and Yacht Sales; West Yachts; National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI, a support group for the Forest Products Industry); and since 2010,  the Northwest Career & Technical Academy Marine Technology Campus. The Marina offers waterfront dining and is close to two nearby parks.    
  • Guemes Channel Properties manages marine business reliant on deep-water access at three locations. Pier 1 houses the Port’s offices and maintenance.  Tenants include Dakota Creek Industries (builder of high-speed aluminum catamaran ferries, ships, barges, trawlers, and ocean tugs, ship repair and upgrades) and M & M Fish. Pier 2 exports dry bulk cargoes and provides short-term moorage for barges. Randy’s Pier 61 Restaurant is located here. The Curtis Wharf provides deep-draft moorage and pier space to Anacortes Seafood and American Gold Seafood, and provides moorage for large vessels. Retail stores and walkways provide public access.  
  • The Anacortes Airport. In addition to San Juan Airlines flights, airport tenant businesses include Aeronautical Services (air freight to and from San Juan Islands); the Airline Training Academy of Puget Sound; Anacortes Aircraft Maintenance; Micro AeroDynamics, Inc. (aircraft safety enhancement); and Northwest Marine Technology Inc. (minimal impact tagging and marking fish and other aquatic animals).   
  • Washington State Ferries leases at the Port’s Ship Harbor and operates ferries to and from the San Juan Islands and Sidney, B.C. (Victoria).

The Port will continue its clean-up initiatives and will concentrate on what it does best: marine-related business and recreational activities.  Anticipating that climate change will lead to new government regulations regarding air emissions, the Port of Anacortes has chosen to be pro-active in promoting new climate technology and science.  The Port will seek grant funding to protect and enhance its natural resources, will utilize green building practices and site treatment whenever possible and intends to follow cleanup and mitigation requirements and acquire property for environmental restoration.    


Steve Berentson, “Voter Approval of Port District in 1926 Stood as Evidence of Hope for the Future” and “Former Commissioner’s Maritime Memories Are Intermingled with Childhood Recollections” and “Notes from Records of Port District’s First Years” and “Port Products Ranged from Fish to ‘Shooks,’” Port of Anacortes 70th Anniversary issue, Fidalgo Magazine, March 27, 1996; Julie Johnson Lindsey and Kathleen Olson, Washington Public Ports Association Press Release, November 24, 2008, Port of Anacortes website accessed October 2, 2010 (http://www.portofanacortes.com/pdf/poypressrelease.pdf); Port of Anacortes Comprehensive Plan 2008, Port of Anacortes website accessed October 10, 2010 (http://www.portofanacortes.com/pdf/2008ComprehensivePlan.pdf); Anacortes History Museum website accessed October 16, 2010 (http://www.museum.cityofanacortes.org/); “The History of Anacortes,” Anacortes Chamber of Commerce website accessed October 26, 2010 (http://www.anacortes.org/history.cfm); Margaret Friedenauer, “Ships Pass In the Night: Ports of Bellingham and Anacortes Serve Alaska Well,” Alaska Business Monthly, June 1, 2009 and “State Agency Gives Port OK to Load Sulphur,” posted by Joan Pringle in “News,” October 7, 2010, All Business, a D&B Company website accessed on October 19, 2010 (http://www.allbusiness.com/government/government-bodies-offices/14573952-1.html); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Airports Owned by Washington’s Public Port Districts” (by John Caldbick) and “Public Port Districts and the Environment” (by Cassandra Tate), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 20, 2010); Evelyn Adams (Anacortes History Museum) email to Margaret Riddle, October 26, 2010, in possession of Margaret Riddle, Everett, Washington.
Note: This essay was revised on February 23, 2011.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You