Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Wandering in Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor, Washington, calls itself "The Maritime City" and maintains a strong connection to its nautical heritage.  The city, across Puget Sound from Tacoma, was founded by immmigrants from Sweden, Norway and Croatia and its economy was initially dominated by commercial fishing, boat building, and logging.  Originally connected to Tacoma by ferry, the first bridge built over the Tacoma Narrows (called "Galloping Gertie" due to its oscillation in strong winds) collapsed in 1940 and was replaced in 1950.  In 1950, the town had 803 residents, but grew quickly after the completion of the new bridge, now has around 12,000 residents, and is a popular tourist destination.

Gig Harbor

We wander along the water and admire the views of the water and the mountains in the distance.

Water and mountains

Houses on the water

In the harbor, we spot many pleasure craft and serious fishing boats.

Pleasure craft

Fun craft

Working vessels

Free life jacket borrowing stations

In 1867, three friends were fishing in Puget Sound and took shelter in Gig Harbor during a storm.  They liked what they saw and moved there with their families, locating near the Native American village at the head of the bay.  They caught fish with nets they made by hand and built a smoke house and rendering plant, the beginning of commercial fishing in Gig Harbor.

The salmon-rich waters of Puget Sound made Gig Harbor ideal for fishing and the industry dominated the Gig Harbor economy for over 100 years.  Many of the original fishing boats still operate out of Gig Harbor, staffed by the descendants of the original founders.

Mussel sculptures near mussel beach

To meet the demand for vessels, Gig Harbor also developed a strong boat building industry, constructing over 140 wooden boats between 1912 and 1931 at the three main shipyards


Near the shipyards, in a corner of the harbor, Austin Park commemorates the sawmill built in the early 1900s and a sculpture honoring the first residents of the area, a band of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Honoring the first residents

The Puyallup lived well among abundant natural resources, but were significanlty impacted by diseases bought by the European settlers and were eventually expelled from their homes and relocated by the government to the Puyallup Reservation while the government confiscated over 2.4 million acres of their land, including 1,200 acres of water-front property in Gig Harbor.  In the 1960s, the tribes started regaining some of their rights and fisheries and in 2021, the Puyallup Tribe became a sovereign nation composed of many of the descendants of the original natives.

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