On October 28, 1933, the townspeople of Indianola vote to create a port district at the small seaside village that faces Port Madison Bay in Kitsap County. The main reason for creating a port is to manage the 900-foot-long pier that stretches across tide flats into deep water, allowing small boats to put in. The constant need to keep up and repair the 17-year-old pier has become an uncertain burden and expense handled largely by volunteers. And so voters come today to cast their ballots at the small, frame community hall they had built just four years earlier. All but one of the 47 voters will favor creating the port district. Fittingly, they will choose as one of the three port commissioners Ernest A. Loughrey, the son of the man whose marriage to a local Suquamish woman had helped make their small stretch of land available to white citizens. This pier will give Indianola contacts with other Puget Sound towns through recreational craft, fishing boats, and auto ferries, and it will require frequent repairs, renovations, and expansion over the years. By 2011 the pier will remain the most iconic feature of the Indianola community and its port.
Facing the Seashore
The people living on the shores of Port Madison Bay and adjoining, narrow Miller Bay have always faced the seashore for their livelihood and societal existence. Untold generations of the Suquamish received the bounties of the shore and deeper waters. They harvested cod, salmon, clams and other shellfish, and the necessities of life, depending also on vegetation and game from the hinterlands behind. Their great leader, Chief Seattle (178?-1866) for whom Seattle was named, made his headquarters at the village of Suquamish where his Old Man House remains an evocative landmark. The Suquamish had other villages along these waters, but none, apparently, at the place that postal officials designated as Indianola. (In his generally authoritative compendium on origins of Washington place names, Robert Hitchman (1908-1981) reports that Indianola was named by land developer -- and later Seattle mayor -- Ole Hanson (1874-1940), who added an embellishment of his first name to "Indian" to create the town name. Although Hanson was involved in developing Suquamish, there is no indication of any connection with Indianola.)
In 1855 the Treaty of Point Elliott created the Port Madison Reservation where the Suquamish were placed, its two large land parcels straddling Miller Bay. Over later decades other federal policies and at least one court decision placed some of the land that would become Indianola into private hands. Ernest Loughrey became a principal land owner; he later sold properties to Warren L. Gazzam, who platted the village of Indianola.
Early in the twentieth century well-to-do Seattle residents in search of rural getaway spots discovered the village; their vacation and weekend retreats were often rustic and offered a respite from the bustle of cross-sound cities. By this time the waters of Puget Sound were bustling with the numerous small boats owned by various transportation companies and individual entrepreneurs that plied amongst towns and villages and came to be immortalized as the "mosquito fleet." One of these was the Kitsap County Transportation Company which Gazzam, who was establishing towns in the county, created in 1905.
To Build a Dock
But putting passengers ashore and picking them up on the long Indianola beach with its extremely low tides was no easy task. Craft occasionally came in on very high tides, and sometimes boaters tied up at a floating dock moored offshore. More commonly Indianola residents would put in at the Suquamish dock, and then either walk around Miller Bay or kayak or canoe across the entrance of the bay to a sand spit which they walked to town. Departing passengers did the reverse. Understandably, by the early teens Indianola residents were considering building their own pier to stretch 900 feet across the tide flats to dependably deep water.
In May 1916 the Kitsap County Transportation Company completed the financing and building of such a pier on land secured from Loughrey. Three years later local residents ensured themselves regular steamship service to Seattle by pledging a year’s payment in advance. For well over a decade the pier enabled transportation between Indianola and other Puget Sound ports including Seattle, with two boats, most notably the Hyak, leaving the dock each morning and returning in the late afternoon.
But it was hard to keep up with the constant needs to repair and maintain the dock, and by the early 1930s the dock and its approaches were clearly unsafe. The pilings of untreated Douglas fir required frequent replacement. Subsequently the Indianola Land Company, the owner of the dock, joined with the Kitsap County Transportation Company and the Indianola Beach Improvement Club to seek means to meet present and future needs. Their solution was to form a port district with the Improvement Club taking the lead and agreeing to turn over its interest in the dock to the district.
A Port for a Dock
On July 31, 1933, attorney Alfred C. Olason presented a petition to the Kitsap County commissioners calling for an election to form a port district named Indianola. The signers were 34 men and women who represented approximately 90 percent of the eligible voters in the proposed district. The district was to include the Indianola community and abutting tide lands plus the existing wharf. It extended into an adjacent portion of the Port Madison Reservation. Three port commissioners represented specific districts.
Following approval by the county auditor and a hearing held on September 6, an election was held on October 28, 1933, at the Indianola Community Club House. Notwithstanding a minor flaw in reporting the election results, the tally showed 46 votes approving the establishment of the Port and a single vote opposed. An equally decisive vote chose Loughery, Alec Lambert, and Gail Huhn as the first port commissioners. Ironically, many people affected by this pier could not vote because they were summer or vacation folk whose residences were elsewhere.
The Land Company quickly transferred ownership of the pier to the Port, and at their first meeting in January 1934 the commissioners took charge. They set up rules and regulations for running the district, agreed to rent advertising space to meet financial needs, and appointed Ernie Bryson as wharfinger. At later meetings, they set tariffs for merchandise coming in.
Meanwhile the legendary Captain Alexander Peabody (1895-1980) had formed the Puget Sound Navigation Company and its Black Ball Ferry line, and in 1935 (or 1937 -- sources vary), Peabody bought the ferry franchise, which included docking rights at the pier, from the Kitsap County Transportation Company. Peabody's company paid the Port a rental fee of $100 a year and made some improvements to the dock.
Ferries for Cars
As ferries began to bring cars to Indianola and roads were built inland, the old pier was no longer sufficient for increased travel. A new structurally sound two-lane pier that could accommodate trucks as well as automobiles was erected alongside the old one. An adjustable ramp was built to connect the dock to ferry decks. The former pier became a pedestrian walkway with a long, narrow stairway located partway along that went down to the beach.
In the spring of 1936 the San Mateo began regular auto ferry service to Indianola, and other ferries later used the route. Years later one resident recalled these boats as "the focal point of Indianola; everything revolved around them ... . Food, clothes, supplies, books, mail, newspapers, medicine, friends, relatives, guests, pets, everything came by boat" (Rose Marie Clung, in Indianola Breeze, November 1969, quoted in in Indianola: A Community Memoir, 36, and in Langlie, "A Short History.") Passengers sometimes made community decisions aboard ship, and abundant local lore and anecdotes built up around the travels.
Summer Folks and Other Folks
Indianola never grew large. It remained a small community that embraced families from Seattle and other towns with vacation cabins and other retreats situated amidst the trees in a careful grid of roads that climbed the hill from the beach. Several generations of some families helped create a close knit community of folks who returned each summer and at other times. Representative of these was the family of Seattle mayor and future Washington governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) who summered in the late 1930s in a blue rental cabin on the beach. By 1960 about half of Indianola’s population consisted of such part-timers.
But new developments combined to make boat transportation to Indianola less essential. New roads and highways were built; the Agate Pass bridge was completed in 1950 to connect the area to Bainbridge Island; and large, frequent ferry runs crossed Puget Sound to Winslow and Kingston. The last regular ferry run to Indianola was that of the Rosario in October 1951, only a few months after Captain Peabody sold his ferry system to the State of Washington, which now operated the majority of automobile ferries on Puget Sound. "The dock," reminisced one resident, "was an empty thing, leading nowhere. The bay was an empty expanse of water, with no ferry boat in sight." (Rose Marie McClung in Indianola Breeze, November 1969, quoted in Indianola: A Community Memoir, 37.) A more efficient transportation network had won out. Perhaps coincidentally, Langlie, the onetime summer resident who had become governor, was instrumental both in securing the construction of the Agate Pass bridge and the state’s purchase of the ferries.
The Port and Its Dock Today
The dock remained Indianola’s most distinctive landmark and served local residents and recreational boaters even as it showed growing signs of deterioration. Pilings, timbers, decking, and guard rails were rotting, and in the fall of 1971 the Port District led in its reconstruction, funded in large part by local donations. The length was shortened to 870 feet. In 1982 a major storm necessitated further reconstruction. Nine years later a commission report summed up the history and functions of the small port district. "The pier is currently used for a landing facility for small vessels, primarily pleasure craft. It is also used for recreational purposes such as fishing, swimming and water skiing. A flight of stairs for beach access is also maintained by the port" (William J. Couillard to Kitsap County Auditor, January 6, 1988, and subsequent reports in Port of Indianola Files, Kitsap County Auditor).
Although the port district was created in 1933, it was not until late 1997 that the district joined the Washington Public Ports Association, finally to realize the benefits that a professional organization could avail. That year the annual valuation of property within the district, which provided the basis for the Port tax levy, was $87.5 million in an area where values continued to grow. In 2008 the extent of the port district itself was enlarged beyond its original properties. The resulting increases in tax revenue were required to make major repairs and renovations on the dock, but there were no plans to develop further beyond the regular necessary dock repairs.
Almost a century after the first Indianola dock was built, its successor remains the iconic structure in a community that, despite the emergence of modern, luxury residences in its vicinity, continues to reflect the village it was during the heyday of the dock and its water-borne travel system. From his home overlooking the pier, longtime Port Commissioner John Jacobsen could keep watch on the port and its dock, the longest in Kitsap County.