On May 7, 1923, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners sets June 7, 1923, as the date for a special election to form the Port of Manchester. The port, located on the eastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula at the north end of Yukon Harbor, will build a car ferry dock at Manchester for Mosquito Fleet steamers that ply the waters of Puget Sound. After almost 30 years, ferries will cease operations in the bay, but the port will continue to operate a dock, boat ramp, park, and parking facilities for local residents and recreational boaters.
Going Between Towns
Until the 1920s, the Kitsap Peninsula had few reliably good roads between towns. Numerous bays and inlets made overland distances much longer than waterborne routes. Early white settlers traveled between towns and to and from Seattle via canoes and rowboats. Frances Vannorsdal (1905-2000), granddaughter of Manchester's early settlers, remembered years later, "It is hard to realize how isolated was the community compared to today. Main road to Colby went west three or four miles, then a shore turn south and east. Another way was walking the two-mile trail, or rowing ... . Most of the travel and business was with Seattle" (Throckmorton, 93)
As the area's towns grew and more farms developed on logged lands, larger, steam-powered boats began regularly scheduled routes between towns. Because they lacked a dock, residents of Manchester had to row out and flag down steamers as they passed by the town because there was no dock for the steamers to use. In about the 1890s residents placed a float offshore from which passengers and freight could load and unload.
In 1908 the Manchester Improvement Club formed to pool resources for building a dock. The dock served foot passengers and some freight coming in for the town's stores or going out from area farms. Steamers that served the dock carried passengers and freight between Seattle, Harper, Colby, Southworth, and Vashon Island. Tourists came to Manchester for day trips and to stay at the Manchester Inn. Manchester grew into a bustling community with banks, stores, and several restaurants.
To Build a Dock
In the 1910s and 1920s roads on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas improved and more tourists came over from Seattle with cars. Manchester's passenger dock could not accommodate vehicle traffic. The town's residents decided to form a port district to enable them to build a ferry dock.
Voters approved the district's formation on June 7, 1923. The district encompassed the Manchester waterfront and the uplands, extending west to Woods Road E, north to E Beaver Creek Road, and south to E Collins Road.
The Port built a ferry dock that opened in 1925. Car ferries such as the Beeline, Crosline, and Bremerton docked at Manchester daily. Captain Harry W. Crosby, owner of Crosby Direct Line Ferries, which challenged the Puget Sound Navigation Company's dominance on the cross-sound runs, joined in the effort to build the dock. Crosby offered direct service between Manchester and Alki Point, on the Seattle side of Puget Sound. The larger Puget Sound Navigation Company forced a merger with Cosby Direct Line Ferries, but the Manchester-Alki route remained in service until 1941. Other companies, including Kitsap County Transportation Company, offered passenger service, with connections to Seattle routes at Bremerton and Manchester.
For more than two decades the auto ferries ran between Manchester and Seattle. A 1946 brochure for the Black Ball Line advertised Manchester as a tourist destination, where one could linger for hours.
After World War II, roads connecting Puget Sound communities improved, particularly after the construction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. In 1949, citing reduced revenues, the Puget Sound Navigation Company asked the King County Commissioners for permission to cease operation of the Seattle-Manchester route. Local residents protested vigorously, claiming outdated ships and other inefficiencies led to the line's deficit, not inadequate ridership. Nonetheless, the commissioners allowed the change.
Ferry service ended in the summer of 1949 and area riders had to shift to the docks at Bremerton or Harper (later moved to a dock at Southworth Point) to board auto ferries. The loss of ferry service led to an abrupt decline of travelers passing through Manchester and the dock became a fishing pier.
In the mid-1960s the port removed the old dock and in 1967 opened a new boat ramp, pier, and floating dock. Loretta Pomeroy (1914-1984), the widow of former Seattle mayor Allan Pomeroy (ca. 1907-1966), sold the parcel of land adjacent to the Port's dock to the Port in 1966. The Port developed the land into Pomeroy Park, named in his honor.
In 1953 the supporters of the Manchester Public Library, now a branch of the Kitsap Regional Library, lost use of the renovated chicken house it had occupied since 1948. The Port offered the library part of a parcel of land two blocks inland from the dock, known as the Manchester Parking Lot, on condition that the library be built on skids so it could be removed from the lot if the Port needed the land. Through donated plans, labor, and materials, a new library building was built and opened to the public in 1954. In 1980 the library built a new, permanent, building at the same location.
Today's Port of Manchester
In 1995 the Port District expanded its district boundaries to include three additional precincts to the south of the existing district. Also in the 1990s, the port expanded its parking facilities on the lot next to the library building.
A 1996 master plan developed by the Port called for a second dock and boat ramp, as well as additional parking space to accommodate the recreational boaters that used the Port's facilities to access the water. Budget concerns led to elimination of the second boat ramp.
In the late 1990s, the Port built a new pier and floating fishing dock in place of the old one, added a floating transient moorage dock, and replaced the old boat launch with one that can be used at low tide. The Port also purchased property just west of the docks to develop into additional parking for the park and boat launch.
In 2009 the commissioners considered forming an Industrial Development District. This would have allowed the Port to collect an additional levy and purchase land that met specific criteria for classification as marginal land. The port commissioners saw this as an opportunity to purchase property at lower prices due to the economic recession. After receiving mixed reactions from port district residents, however, the commissioners decided not to form the Industrial Development District.
Currently, the Port of Manchester is considering how to address problems created by stormwater drainage. The runoff from area streets enters Puget Sound near the Port's docks. It has brought sediment and pollution to the waterfront, which poses risks to people using the beach and to the area's environmental health.
Though the Port's activities have shifted over time, its primary purpose remains the same: through the Port's land and facilities area residents can gain access to one our region's greatest natural assets, Puget Sound.