William A. Bugge speaks at dedication of the Portage Canal Bridge to Indian Island on Jan. 11, 1952. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

BACK WHEN: William A. Bugge: Local Boy Makes Good

IN 1977, THE Hood Canal Bridge, which had opened in August 1961, was renamed the William A. Bugge Hood Canal Bridge, in honor of William Adair Bugge, who had supervised its building as the state director of highways.

Appointed as highway director in 1949 by Gov. Arthur B. Langlie, Bugge served in the position for 14 years.

When Bugge took office, 52 percent of Washington’s state roads were rated “deficient.”

By setting up a new system that prioritized construction on a “most-needed” basis and decentralizing operations by leaving contracts and planning to district offices, Bugge administered 2,600 construction contracts and built 4,107 miles of highways.

Projects he supervised

Some of the projects he supervised were the building of the Agate Pass Bridge, the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the Battery Street Tunnel, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, the Vancouver-Portland Interstate Bridge, the Olympia Freeway and the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge.

He also played a role in expediting funding for the Portage Canal Bridge to Indian Island in Jefferson County.

Bugge also was very active in the national ­highway program.

He served in almost every significant highway group.

He was called “a master of diplomacy” and won three major national awards within one year (1960-61), also winning the Traffic Engineering Award four years running (1951-54).

In May 1963, he resigned in order to become the project director in charge of design and construction of the $1.5 billion Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) in San Francisco, which at that time was the largest engineering contract ever awarded to any firm.

When the BART system finally opened in 1972-73, Bugge retired.

But where did this esteemed engineer begin?

William Adair “Bill” Bugge was born in Hadlock on July 10, 1900. He was the second of three children of Capt. Samuel Bugge and his wife, Amelia Bishop Bugge.

His older sister, Karmen, was “one year and one week” older than he, and his younger sister, Severina, was born in 1918.

At the time of his birth, Samuel was the manager of the company store for the Washington Mill Co. in Hadlock.

Bugge’s father

He was born in Norway in 1869, and his family immigrated to Minnesota when he was a young boy.

As soon as he was grown, he went to sea and worked on a sealer for several years before coming ashore in the Northwest when he was about 21.

While living in Port Townsend, Samuel worked for William Bishop, delivering milk to Port Townsend customers.

It was then that he met Bishop’s youngest daughter, Amelia, and they were married in 1898.

Bill Bugge, in his oral history recorded in 1987, stated that they “had a very wonderful relationship.”

Until about 1906, the Bugges remained in Hadlock.

Bill’s only memory of that part of his life was seeing the sailing schooners tied up at the dock, loading lumber. Then Samuel moved to Lopez Island to start a creamery, which he later moved to Friday Harbor.

While Samuel was getting established, Amelia and the children lived in “an old tenement” apartment house in Port Townsend.

Bill spoke of all the ladies who lived there “reading a newspaper with a screaming headline of the earthquake in San Francisco.”

After they joined Samuel in Friday Harbor, Bill began his first four years of school.

Samuel and his brother, John, had also established a store in Friday Harbor. Samuel served as the state representative from San Juan County in 1906.

As the result of an economic depression, with San Juan farmers unable to pay their bills at the store, and John’s taking his share of the value of the store when he moved to Alaska, the Bugge family moved back to Port Townsend in 1911.

Bishop left his house at 1232 Van Ness St. to Amelia when he died, and this became the Bugges’ home.

Samuel tried unsuccessfully to start a fruit cannery, then he went to Alaska to manage canneries for about two years.

Life in Port Angeles

When he returned in 1913 to manage the company store for the Michael Earls mills in Port Angeles, the family moved there.

Bill completed seventh and eighth grades in Port Angeles. He graduated from eighth grade as valedictorian and also had the highest score in Washington on the eighth-grade state examination.

In 1914, the family moved back to Port Townsend and Bill entered high school.

His father ran a fish market on Union Wharf.

Bugge remembered: “That, I can assure you, was not a very profitable operation in Port Townsend. People in those days didn’t [eat] fish like they do now.”

One summer, Samuel worked as a cannery fish buyer at Cape Flattery and left Bill to run the market.

Other summers, Bill worked in a Port Townsend fish cannery owned by Ed Sims. By that time, Samuel had bought a fish trawler.

During his high school years, Bill also worked for Sanford Lake at Port Townsend Dry Goods.

The summer after high school graduation in 1918, he worked at Fort Worden for a Port Townsend contractor, digging trenches for a sewage system for new latrines and putting roofing on new cantonment buildings.

Bill said, “I look back and, as a youngster, I didn’t enjoy the activities that a young fellow should enjoy, playing around and all.”

When Bill was a senior in high school, Samuel went to sea again as skipper of the S.B. Handy for Puget Sound Freight Lines, where he worked until he died of a heart attack at the wheel in June 1939.

After Amelia’s death, in 1927, from “acute diabetes,” Samuel lived in Tacoma, and in his final years, he lived aboard the Handy.

Army officer training

In September 1918, Bill entered an army officer training program at Washington State College in Pullman.

As the end of World War I approached, the Spanish flu epidemic reached the college. More than 150 students died.

“All of us young fellows who didn’t get the flu had to walk guard duty, [and] … we had the job of transferring these young people from one building to another relative to their condition.”

When the armistice was signed in November, Bill and 20 of his fellow Army trainees had come down with the mumps.

They were sent to Fort George Wright in Spokane until their discharge two months later.

College life

Bill returned home to Port Townsend and worked until he entered the School of Engineering at Washington State College in the fall of 1919. He majored in civil engineering.

Bill supported himself by working as a restaurant dishwasher for his board and at a weekend bakery job to pay for his room rent.

He remarked: “You can see it was a strain going to college and thank God I did, but as far as college life was concerned, I had no participation in it at all … I didn’t even go to the football games because I had to work on Saturdays.”

The summer after his third year, he was working for the state engineering department near Port Angeles and, in an accident in a crew truck, got a ­concussion.

By the time he had recovered, the fall term had started, so he went back to work for the state engineering department from 1922 to 1926 and never finished his college degree.

Bill worked for several private contractors, constructing roads and paper mills on several jobs, then came back to work for the state near Forks for about two years.

After that, he returned to Jefferson County to work as an engineer for Jim Coyne, a local road work contractor.

Until about 1935, all of the roads in the county were gravel and had to be regraded year after year. Coyne had plenty of work available.

In 1930, Bill married Evelyn Bishop from Port Angeles.

The Coyne jobs were located at various sites in Jefferson and Clallam counties, and the young couple moved from site to site.

“We were living around in shacks … in Quilcene and Chimacum and all over the place and back to Port Angeles.”

In 1933, Bugge was approached by three newly elected Jefferson County commissioners who offered him the job of county engineer. He served in that position until 1944.

Centralized funding

During his tenure, funding for county roads was centralized and a bidding process for roadwork contracts was implemented.

Bugge said, “I think that taking the county out of the dust period and into a program of paved roads is the biggest achievement I had.

“By the time I left, all the major roads either had bituminous surface or penetration macadam.”

During World War II, Bill also served as civil defense coordinator for Jefferson County and the city of Port Townsend.

From 1944 to 1948, Bill worked for the Asphalt Institute in Portland, Ore. Then he became managing engineer for the Pacific Coast Division of the Asphalt Institute for a year and a half in San Francisco.

From there, he accepted the state highway director job in June 1949.

After his retirement from BART in 1973, the Bugges lived in Olympia.

Bill continued to consult on engineering projects through the International Executive Service Corps, a Johnson administration American aid program.

He accepted jobs in Singapore, Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and Liberia.

Evelyn accompanied him on these travels, which continued until he was 81 years old.

Died in 1992

Bill died in Olympia on Nov. 14, 1992.

He was survived by Evelyn and their son, William A. Bugge Jr. (who was also an engineer), two grandchildren and his sister, Severina.

About the Hood Canal Bridge named for him, Bill wrote, “The construction of this structure, the longest floating bridge in the world, was one of my prime objectives during my tenure as director of Washington State Highways; not only as an outstanding engineering project but it developed a permanent connection of the Olympic Peninsula and the Kitsap Peninsula.”


Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.

Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.

Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear July 20.

William Adair Bugge and Karmen Bugge in 1909. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

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