BACK WHEN: Where in the World is the Craven Peninsula?

The history of the Craven Peninsula is explored in this monthly column

An aerial view of the Portage Canal Bridge connecting Port Hadlock on the left and Indian Island on the right. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

An aerial view of the Portage Canal Bridge connecting Port Hadlock on the left and Indian Island on the right. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

IF 21ST-CENTURY residents of Jefferson County were asked to point out the Craven Peninsula on a local map, they would not find it, though it was named in 1841 by Pacific coast explorer Charles Wilkes for a member of his expedition, Lt. Thomas Craven.

The location of East Port Townsend land plats would be equally difficult to find.

The Craven Peninsula was a U-shaped land area connected to the Quimper Peninsula by a gravel ridge 450 feet wide and 3 feet above normal high water, separating Port Townsend Bay from Oak Bay.

This land bridge was known as the Chimacum Portage, after the tribe nearby that often crossed it as a shortcut to Port Townsend Bay.

At high tide, water separated the two sides of the peninsula at its south end, providing a passage into a long bay between the sides, named Kilisut Harbor by Wilkes.

Kilisut is a Chinook word for flint or glass.

Early Port Townsend pioneer Charles Briggs, moving a scow loaded with 30 head of cattle from Tumwater to Port Townsend in 1852 and traveling with the tides needed a water passage without a portage and without the rough currents on the northeast edge of the Craven Peninsula.

He was able to float the scow into Kilisut Harbor from Oak Bay and dubbed the area Scow Bay, not knowing that it already had a name.

(Throughout the years, the narrower northern end of the bay also became known as Long Harbor.)

The name Scow Bay prevailed among other pioneers, and the Craven Peninsula became known as Scow Peninsula.

The two sides of the peninsula were eventually called Indian Island, probably for the sizable number of S’Klallam people living on its northern end, and Marrowstone Island, from Marrow Stone Point at its northeast corner, named for its white cliffs by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792.

During the Port Townsend boom years of the late 1880s, it was felt that the villages of Irondale and Hadlock, as well as the adjacent Scow Peninsula, would be incorporated into the “metropolis.”

With that in mind, land on the peninsula was quickly purchased, and by the end of 1889, a plat called East Port Townsend on Indian Island, and one called Nolton’s East Port Townsend on Marrowstone Island, were filed.

Interest in this area had been fueled by an 1889 survey for a proposed ship canal connecting Oak Bay and Port Townsend Bay, to be created by dredging the Chimacum Portage.

The Army Corps of Engineers had proposed the excavation of the gravel bar joining the peninsula to the mainland as early as 1850 to create a channel that might be of importance in wartime for the defense of Puget Sound.

Other arguments in favor of the canal were that it would facilitate shipping from the proposed iron and steel works at Irondale, that it would shorten the “up-sound” mail route and be a preferred passage for stern-wheel steamships and log rafts bound for Hadlock, Port Townsend and Port Discovery sawmills during rough weather.

At that time, there were so few island residents that loss of the land route to the mainland does not seem to have been a major issue.

Most of the residents owned boats and water travel was preferable to the primitive roads in the area.

The economic depression of the early 1890s halted plans for the ship canal, and people continued to settle on the peninsula.

Construction of Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island in 1899 increased land traffic to and from the peninsula.

In 1900, a new road was built from Fort Flagler across the Chimacum Portage to Port Hadlock on a fill causeway, closing the southern high-tide passage between islands into Scow Bay.

Even after the road was built, the primary means of transportation on the peninsula was foot or rowboat. Few families owned horses.

Supplies were mainly transported by rowboats used for weekly shopping trips to Port Townsend.

The men were seasoned sailors who knew how to cross the swift currents in the bay.

The first motor boat came to the island just before the first automobile, which belonged to Charlie Twiggs.

The large, red, gasoline-powered 1910 Gleason auto arrived at Twiggs’ dock on a scow.

The more practical of the new means of transportation was the gas-powered boats, and more island residents began to acquire them.

In spite of economic problems, the idea of a ship canal persisted, and in 1914, Congress approved $64,000 for its construction.

By this time, some residents protested the loss of their land connection.

In spite of their strong protests, and with an oral promise from the government to construct a bridge above the canal, the project went ahead.

During the dredging process problems were encountered with unanticipated layers of rock that required intensive blasting. The cost of the canal increased to $73,330.

By June 1915, the peninsula had become an island, separated from the mainland by a canal 4,800 feet long, 75 feet wide and 15 feet deep, though the depth had to be maintained by occasional dredging of silt built up by the current.

On July 8, the first boats officially navigated the canal.

Initially the canal was heavily used by fishing vessels, yachts and small freighters.

It was an economic success during the period that freight up and down the Sound was mostly transported by water.

With increased use of trucks and larger boats for freight, the canal was most often frequented by pleasure boats until the Navy built the ammunition depot on Indian Island just before World War II and began dredging the canal again.

The promised bridge to the mainland failed to materialize for 37 years.

Until 1920, the residents of the islands were left with just their own boats to transport their farm and orchard produce to market and to take themselves to any social or civic events on the mainland.

The opening of a high school in Chimacum meant there were students to transport because the Nordland school on Marrowstone only covered grades 1-8.

Appeals to the county commissioners for a bridge or a ferry were met with the reply that it was the responsibility of the federal government to provide a link because it had destroyed the land link.

In 1920, a grant from the Port Townsend Commercial Club helped equip a 50-foot launch obtained by Elmer Johnson.

This ferry, Sachem, started service between lower Hadlock and Indian Island that year with operations financed by the county and port for $40 a month.

It was later replaced by a larger boat, Prosper.

The first vehicles were transported in 1923 when the Sachem was improved, renamed Irene and used to pull a scow with a six-vehicle capacity.

A new 65-foot wooden-hulled, spoon-nosed ferry, Nordland, was built in a Port Hadlock boat shop in 1929 and launched in August.

The Nordland made the 10-minute trip three times a day and cost passengers 75 cents per car ($1.25 round trip) and walk-on passengers paid 15 cents one way (25 cents round trip).

She could carry six vehicles plus passengers and loose freight. The Nord­land served well for the first 10 years.

By 1937, the ferry had become free, with county and port funding, and offered hourly service.

A 1939 haul-out for repairs heavily impacted the Marrowstone turkey farmers. At that time, they had the second largest industry in Jefferson County. This reawakened community demands for a bridge.

The Navy’s acquisition of Indian Island and heavy ferry use during construction of the ammunition depot placed increased demands on the ferry, which transported 44,000 vehicles and 100,000 passengers in 1941.

The aging ferry was showing signs of distress, which resulted in the port and county requesting it be used for island residents only.

Once the Navy staffed its base, it launched its own ferry.

In December 1945, the ferry, with a loaded school bus aboard, was caught midstream by 80 mph wind gusts and had to be rescued by a Navy tug. For some time after that, the school bus was transported on the Navy ferry.

In the late 1940s, increased efforts by the Nordland Community Club, the Navy on Indian Island and the Army at Fort Flagler began to generate some federal government response.

Finally, with support from U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson and state Director of Highways William A. Bugge, who had previously been the Jefferson County engineer, the federal government agreed to pay for a bridge, if the county provided a portion of the funding.

After a massive public information campaign, in November 1950, Jefferson County voters passed a $150,000 bond issue by a count of 2,914 to 189, a record majority in county election history at that time.

The state and military helped finance the bridge with grants.

The Portage Canal Bridge was designed by noted bridge engineer Homer M. Hadley of Seattle and constructed by Manson Construction and Engineering Co. Work began in May 1951.

The total cost of the 670-foot-long bridge was $321,000. At the time it was constructed, the Portage Canal Bridge was the longest steel box girder span west of the Mississippi.

The bridge was dedicated Jan. 11, 1952. A long line of cars waited to cross at the opening, while the ribbon-cutting attracted an audience of 1,500 people. Bugge attended to cut the ribbon. A lunch was served to all spectators.

After 37 years, the residents of Marrowstone Island once more had a road to the mainland. The ferry run was discontinued, the Nordland was sold and it served as a private ferry and cargo carrier in the San Juan Islands until 2007.

The only remaining spot known by Craven’s name is Craven Rock, a large outcropping on the east shore of Marrowstone Island.


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 Her next column will appear Sept. 18.

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