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Time&Again: Portage Dock was landing place of Vashon’s first car ferry

The above photo was likely taken in 1906 and shows the dock where cars boarded the “Vashon Island” ferry. - University of Washington Digital Collection Photo
The above photo was likely taken in 1906 and shows the dock where cars boarded the “Vashon Island” ferry.
— image credit: University of Washington Digital Collection Photo

The photograph in the University of Washington Digital Collection is a bit of a misnomer: It is incorrectly labeled, “Portage Bridge, 1908.”

The “bridge” is actually the Portage Dock that was originally built in the 1890s. The original Van Olinda Store to the right of the dock was built in 1903 and moved further to the right in 1906 when the larger “new” store was built.

Thus, the “Portage Bridge, 1908,” was not a bridge but a dock ,and the photograph was not taken in 1908 but before the “new” store was built in 1906.

The original photograph also shows the Portage House hotel to the left of the dock, which was built by S.D. Sherman in 1906. Therefore, the likeliest date for this photograph is 1906, after the hotel was built but before the original store was moved and the new store built.

The labeling of archival photographs is a risky business.

In 1916, Portage became the site of the first automobile ferry from Vashon to the mainland when King County built an automobile loading dock at the site of the current King County fishing dock.

When the Seattle-Des Moines Highway was completed, the County opened ferry service to Vashon from Des Moines to take advantage of the new highway. King County had the first diesel automobile ferry on Puget Sound built and christened it the “Vashon Island.”

By making the Vashon automobile ferry part of the King County road system, the county established an early precedent of considering ferries as marine highways, a concept that still holds today with the Washington State Ferries system.

However, the Portage-Des Moines ferry was short-lived. It was abandoned in 1921 in favor of the more convenient Vashon Heights-Fauntleroy-Harper (just north of Southworth) ferry route as roads in West Seattle quickly improved, automobiles became more available and a new concrete highway was constructed linking Vashon town to the Heights Ferry Dock.

Mosquito Fleet boats continued to use the Portage dock into the early 1930s when the dock was finally abandoned and removed by King County.

All that is left of the original Portage Dock is the series of cut-off pilings that can be seen in the current photograph taken at low tide in July 2008.

The “new” 1906 Portage Store sits in place at the end of where the dock touched shore; the original 1903 store sits to the right (north) of the “new” store where it was moved in 1906, and the 1906 Portage House hotel is gone, torn down in 1928 and replaced by a home.

The view over Portage into Inner Quartermaster Harbor is much the same. The short road to the inner harbor has been widened but largely unchanged.

The new expanded Dockton Road runs along the bulkhead, and the fishing shed that sits on the bulkhead in the original photograph is long gone as the road was expanded in the 1920s.

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