Portholes to history: Amazing maritime photos collected by Swain’s patriarch exposed for sale [**Gallery**]

PORT TOWNSEND — Her grandfather ran away to sea at the age of 12, serving as a cabin boy on ships sailing out of California.

Her father, Cliff Swain, set out for Alaska to work in a gold mine.

When he married, Cliff and his bride, Bee, tied the knot aboard the Bo-Peep in Puget Sound, then cast off for the San Juans, where they spent their honeymoon.

So when customers brought Cliff Swain photographs of steamships that plied Northwest waters, he bought them.

“My father was always on a boat,” said Glenda Swain Cable. “Boating was a very important part of his life.”

Cliff Swain, who started Swain’s General Store in Port Angeles in 1957, died in 1995, but his collection of photographs of steamships and West End watering holes, native art, carvings and artifacts lives on at Cable’s farm in Carlsborg.

Not having room to display the larger framed photo collections, she is offering them for sale at Swain’s Outdoor at 1121 Water St., Port Townsend, which is going out of business.

“Otherwise, they’d end up in the barn, where I’d be the only one to see them,” said Cable, who owns the Port Townsend store with her husband, Dick Cable.

The photos will be on display at the store until mid-February.

The Cables announced the impending closure of the sporting goods, housewares and clothing store Jan. 7.

They also had owned the Swain’s Outdoor store in Sequim, which closed last summer.

The closure of the Port Townsend store will not affect Swain’s General Store in Port Angeles, which has a different owner — Cable’s sister, Rebecca Gedlund.

Cable, who raises miniature horses, said her favorite historic photo is one of Dewey Sisson and his horses on the tiny ferry that used to cross Lake Crescent.

Another photo shows a horse-drawn wagon on a plank bridge under construction across the Elwha River.

The bridge was washed out when the first Elwha dam, shown in another photo, washed out.

Other West End images of long-gone landmarks include the Sol Duc Hot Springs Hotel, which, according to the caption, was built in 1912 at a cost of a million dollars and burned down four years later.

Cable, who grew up in Port Angeles, said her father used to drive a log truck around Lake Crescent.

One of her early memories is of her father washing his log truck, which he dubbed “The Termite,” on Sundays and taking her and her mother for a ride.

Cliff, who opened Swain’s as an Army surplus store, had a succession of Tollycraft boats, 36 feet to 48 feet long, all named The Mam-ook, which means “going places.”

“Every summer, they would cruise up to Southeast Alaska,” Cable said of her parents.

“We’d fly up and join them for two-week periods.”

Two of the most impressive pieces on sale are a large photograph of Port Blakely in Kitsap County by Seattle photographer Asahel Curtis and a nautical chart of Haro and Rosario straits, printed in London.

The former was taken at the port, said to have one of the largest sawmills in the world in the 1890s, the rough texture of logs floating in the water contrasting with the graceful masts rising from the sailing ships at anchor.

The nautical chart, which was based on a 1858-1859 survey by Capt. G.H. Richards and the crew of the HMS Plumper, also shows soundings and details of the shoreline along the North Olympic Peninsula.

“It’s so fascinating that in those days before airplanes, they could explore an area, cruise around and then were able to take it all back to London and produce something like this,” Cable said of the map.

Her father met actor John Wayne when the talks about the marina in Sequim Bay were under way and once hosted former Gov. Dan Evans and his family aboard The Mam-ook.

“I found a letter he wrote in the early ’60s in regard to boats getting too close to the whales,” Cable said of her father.

Cliff Swain also collected native art.

Cable inherited carvings by Ray Williams and his sons, Rick Williams and John Williams, who was killed in Seattle.

Her father was also a woodworker, she said, and probably constructed the frames for the photographs.

One unframed piece for sale, dated 1925, is a panorama of the Port Angeles waterfront, created from two photographs put together and tinted.

“It was the last time the entire Pacific Fleet was in the harbor,” Cable said.

“A man who came into the store pointed out the Mississippi.”

Another man, looking at the photos of steamships that had gone aground, told Cable’s son, Grant Cable, that his father was the captain when the SS Princess May ran aground on Sentinel Island, Alaska, on Aug. 5, 1910.

Captions under each steamship photo relate its history, including its fate, usually sunken or scrapped.

Skagit Belle, a 164-foot wooden sternwheeler built for the Skagit River Transportation Co., had a particularly ignominious end, serving as a restaurant on Seattle’s Pier 51 until 1965, when it foundered, remaining, according to the caption, a partially submerged eyesore.

A Kitsap Transportation Co. steamship, Hyak, could reach a speed of 20 mph at times, according to the caption, and when the T.J. Potter was built in 1888 for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co., it was billed as the “fastest sidewheeler in the Northwest.”

But none could outrace time and technology.

Those that didn’t sink were sold for scrap, including the Hyak, which was dismantled, its hull abandoned along the Duamish River.

Alaskan Steamship Co. vessels didn’t go down without a fight.

Northwestern, built in 1883, logged 18 strandings, according to the caption, and the Mt. McKinley, built in 1918 and purchased by the Alaskan Steamship Co. in 1936, survived until 1942, where it became a casualty of war on the Alaskan coast.

A whaling canoe, which Cable thinks was created in LaPush for the Three Rivers Resort, survived to the present day because it was never used, she said.

It was displayed at the resort, then at the Port Angeles store for a while.

She also has the 11-foot-high Lummi totem pole that once stood in front of the Port Angeles store.

It is now in her front yard growing moss, Cable said, so she is talking with Daniel Hallaire, son of the carver Joe Hallaire, about moving it to a more protected place.

“I’d like it to go to the family,” she said.

Cable said she’d like the photographs and chart to be purchased by a museum or entity that would display them in a public place, so that everyone can see them.

For more information, phone Grant Cable, store manager, at 360-385-1313 or e-mail swains@olympus.net.


Jennifer Jackson is a free-lance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. She writes a column about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her, phone 360-379-5688, or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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