Have you ever been to the city of Gig Harbor?
You should! Its pretty spectacular. The city itself is just under six square miles, and those miles are absolutely packed with beauty, things to do, views, places to eat, shopping, and history, to name a few. That’s a lot to pack into just under six square miles, but Gig Harbor manages with panache.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I mean, how did this place even come to be what it is?
Let’s jump into our shiny, economical (albeit slightly cramped), space-age polymer time machine together (the one with surround sound, temperature controls, and frosty beverages). I think we should give it a flashy name, something like Greased Lightning. But I digress. Let’s push some buttons and fly, shall we? The year is 1841, and it really was a dark and stormy night. So much so that Captain Charles Wilkes brought the Captain’s ‘gig’ (a small boat used as the Captain’s taxi on naval ships) into the harbor for safety. Aptly, then, when the Wilkes 1841 Map of the Oregon Territory was published, he had named the sheltered bay Gig Harbor.
Are you with me? This time I’ll let you push the buttons on Greased Lightning! Please, if you will, enter the year 1867. A fisherman named Samual Jerisich has descended upon the harbor, along with an influx of immigrants from Sweden, Norway, and Croatia, to bask in the fishing opportunities the glorious sparkling waters had to offer. And then in 1888, the town was platted by Alfred M. Burnham (I bet that name sounds familiar!).
Fine, you can push the buttons again. 1905 you say? I’m in! There is a lot of buzz going around about these fellows named the Skansie brothers. That name sounds familiar too, no? And the buzz was well-deserved, as they were the first in the area to build a gasoline-powered fishing boat, using a 7 horsepower engine. In fact, Skansie Shipyards built fishing vessels from the late 1910s to the early 1950s! The ongoing restoration of the 65-foot F/V Shenandoah can even be seen today at the Harbor History Museum.
My turn! Let us fast forward to 1940. The economy is mostly made up of commercial fishing, boat building, and logging. The original Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened to traffic on July 1st of this year. Before that, the primary method of transportation between Gig Harbor and Tacoma was by steamship. At the time, it was the third longest suspension bridge in the world, behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge! You have likely heard the name Galloping Gertie… This name was actually given to the bridge DURING construction, when it was observed moving vertically in windy conditions. And then on November 7 of the same year, Galloping Gertie collapsed, giving in to 40mph winds and coming to her resting place in the waters below. If you haven’t seen the footage, I’d strongly recommend it (unless you are afraid of bridges…… Then it will probably traumatize you forever). Because of the resource demands of WWII, another bridge wasn’t able to be built until 1950, which is still in use today. During the 1940s, then, drivers had to be transported by a state run ferry service directly to downtown Gig Harbor. In fact, you can still see the remains of that ferry dock at the Southeast end of Harborview Drive! The area has even been turned into a park, with raging views of Mt. Rainier, the Cascades, and Pt. Defiance. And while we are exploring the 1940s together, it is vital to note (and celebrate with a Greased Lighting frosty beverage!) the official incorporation of Gig Harbor on July 12, 1946. Happy platinum anniversary, Gig Harbor!
I think now would be a good time to step out of the time machine for a while and post up together on one of any number of serene park benches, with our frosty beverages, and just sit back and relax and watch a few years (or decades) in Gig Harbor go by. I’ll even let you pick some of the music, now that we’re getting to know each other. I still hold the ultimate veto power on music selections, though, I’ll warn you that now. Anyway, the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge is in place, and Gig Harbor and the surrounding areas are developing as suburbs of Tacoma. And why not! It’s so peaceful and beautiful from where we are sitting on this bench, with water and trees and CALM everywhere we look. Families are moving into residential developments, and what were previously summer cabins are becoming year-round homes. Kids are playing, water is sparkling, parks are beautiful, and commuting is easy.
And oh how time flies! It is now the 1970s, and I am taking charge of the music and playing some Three Dog Night. I suppose since we’ve been watching the world go by from this bench for about 20 years now, it might be a good time to stretch our legs. So I propose we meander idly through the downtown area, singing Joy to the World gleefully together (after all, Jeremiah WAS a bullfrog, and he was a good friend of mine). At this point, the local merchants have been promoting downtown as a historic area, and we can blend in with the growing number of tourists checking out the shops, dining, and views. So effectively has tourism been promoted, in fact, that at this point as we wander through downtown in the 70s, it has become among the primary economical machines in Gig Harbor!
If you’ve grown tired of my singing, what say we treat Greased Lighting to an oil change and hit up the 80’s and 90s? State Route 16 is such an effective and highly utilized corridor that quite a bit of retail is popping up near the highway, to service the growing residential population. The city, then, has wisely annexed the surrounding rural areas for commercial and residential use, ultimately able to preserve the character of the downtown area.
Now that we are approaching current day and our tour of Gig Harbor history is slowing down a bit, I think it’s time we float peacefully in a rented kayak from one of the waterfront docks, and look at the city for a while from off-shore. I hope you remembered the boombox and the snacks! Let me tell you what I see from here…. I see some commercial fishing vessels dotting the docks, though these days mostly moored there to do a small amount of fishing, or to take off and head to Alaska, along with quite a bit of personal watercraft. I see people jogging along the tree-lined walkways in the sunshine, or walking their dogs through the parks, or combining the two and jogging with their dogs. Who says you can’t have it all? I see local merchants in their shops and boutiques, and I see delicious looking restaurants with mouth-watering aromas inviting me in. I see GORGEOUS homes with GORGEOUS views of mountains and water and trees. I see people raising their families here, in sunny summers and sometimes snowy winters (you should see the Christmas tree lit up!). I see a beautiful city of history and charm, and I kinda want its autograph.
Have you enjoyed our tour together? It’s not every day you get to ride in a time machine! Nor is it every day I am willing to share the radio. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked up kind of an appetite. I’m in the mood for Thai. And I just so happen to know a place right down near the water…… Care to join me?