Sitting on Lake Union is a ferry that was once familiar to
hundreds commuting between Point Defiance and Vashon
Island. The small Skansonia, which sailed for Washington
State Ferries on the route for nearly 20 years on the run is
today largely forgotten.
Constructed in 1929 by the Skansie Brother shipyard for
their Washington Navigation Company, the Skansonia and
her near twin sister Defiance worked the route between Gig
Harbor and Tacoma.
The ferry would have quite a long life span, considering that
from keel-laying to her first day of service only took a total of
12 weeks. The wooden wonder was put out of a job breifly in
1940 when the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened. The
ferry moved from the now defunct Gig Harbor route to
crossing between the southern end of Vashon Island at
Tahlequah to Tacoma. It was a short lived stint: in October
of 1940 the bridge would break apart in high wind and
plummet to the bottom of the Narrows.
A contract with the State was drawn up for immediate ferry
service to begin again, and from 1940 until 1950 the
Skansonia shuttled cars and passengers from Gig Harbor on
the Kitsap Peninsula to Tacoma. Finally in October of 1950
the new Tacoma Narrows bridge opened and the Skansonia
was out of job for good on that route. When the contract
with the State ended, the Skansonia, purchased by the state
back in 1940, became part of the new Washington State
Ferries in 1951. (The other two ferries the state purchased
from the Washington Navigation Company, the Defiance and
City of Tacoma were sold in April of 1951.) She stayed
basically in her old neighborhood, running from Vashon
Island to Point Defiance.
From 1950 and for the next 17 years the little Skansonia
worked the route, losing it only when a new steel ferry
specially constructed for the route took over. The
Skansonia made her last crossing from Tahlequah to Point
Defiance on 20 July, 1967, surrendering the route to the
The ferry sat out the 1968 season and remained idled until
the summer of 1969 when she worked the weekend
overloads on the Clinton-Mukilteo route. It was her last bit of
work of Washington State Ferries.
|At top, the Skansonia's original lunch counter, which had a distinct art deco feel. Courtesy of TPL. Above,
once crowded with DeSotos, Packards and Studebakers, the car deck now hosts weddings, banquets and
social events. Courtesy of Matt Masuoka.
|Immortality, of a sort...
The wooden wonder of Gig Harbor is still serving the public, though as a wedding and party venue on Lake Union where she has been moored for well over twenty years.
The ferry has suffered a little bit for her prolonged use, as she now sits in a cradle and is not floating strictly on her own. This will help preserve the ferry.
There are some small reminders of her previous life. A few bits of signage from the Washington State Ferries era exist on board.
Top, courtesy of Guy de Gouville.
Bottom, courtesy of Matt Masuoka.
Official Number: 229088 Radio Call Number: WA7467 Built: Skansie Brothers Shipyard, Gig Harbor, WA, 1929.
Lengeth: 164' 6" Beam: 50' 11" Draft: 8' 8" Auto Deck Clearance: 11' Speed: 8 Knots Propulsion: Fairbanks-Morse Diesel Autos: 32 Passengers: 465.
FINAL DISPOSITION: In service, albeit stationary as a wedding and event center on Lake Union. See link below.
The Skansonia arrives at Tahlequah. Williamson/MOHAI/Color by the author.
On 14 September, 1969 she returned to Eagle Harbor and
was tied up. Declared surplus in 1971, the ferry was sold
and moved to Lake Washington, where for a number of
years she was used as a private residence.
In the mid 1980's she was renovated as a banquet hall and
moved to Lake Union. She's been very successful in this
reincarnation, having hosted hundreds of weddings over the
last 20 years. For a time she was joined by the Kalakala on
the Lake, a pairing that was not always appreciated.
The vessel is a rare example of the Puget Sound ferry
that stayed in home waters and became a success after
retirement. Hopefully she can serve as an example for other
retirees in years to come. Www.Skansonia.com