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Gig Harbor

The lake-like haven of Gig Harbor is shut off by a narrow entrance from the open Sound; surrounding hills protect it from gales from any quarter, as the crew of the ship’s gig from the Wilkes expedition gratefully found when it took refuge here from a storm in 1841. By the 1940s, Gig Harbor was the home port for some 35 large purse seiners which followed the various fishing runs from Mexican waters to the Arctic seas. They were manned mostly by Croatians, Slovaks, and Austrians, who maintain a Catholic Church and its several societies, and a Croatian Fraternal Union, and formed a strong unit of the Fishermen’s Union.

Agriculture was also a source of income for Gig Harbor. The Washington Berry Growers Association and the Washington Co-operative Egg and Poultry Association both had depots here. Produce, flowers, and poultry were displayed at the community fair held each September in the high school gymnasium.

The first settlers, Dr. Burnham and his family, arrived in the early 1880s. In the succeeding quarter of a century the town flourished around a sawmill and the wharves, where schooners and, later, steam freighters loaded the cut lumber. Within a score of years, however, the forests were gone, the mill was closed and dismantled, and the freighters sought cargoes in other ports.

In the 1940s, the Gig Harbor shipyard, owned by the Washington Navigation Company, sheltered under a spreading sheet-iron roof its piers and ways, machinery, and benches. At its drydocks the company’s five ferries, as well as sundry fishing boats, were maintained and serviced. Mitchell Skansie, organizer and part owner of this enterprise, began by building fishing boats, mostly purse seiners, of 65 to 85 feet, more than 100 of which have slipped down the Gig Harbor ways to a roving life on the waters off Western America. Formerly, Pierce County operated the ferries built with the hammers and caulking irons of Gig Harbor craftsmen; but, in 1921, the shipbuilding company took over the lines.

As late as the 1940s, Gig Harbor presented an unusual sport in the rooster races held at the C. E. Shaw residence each Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer. The trained white leghorn racers, bred for speed, roosted in the little houses of a miniature village laid out beside the track.

The bay was named by Cmdr. Charles Wilkes, in 1841 who believed that the bay had sufficient depth for a captain’s gig.


1925 image of the Shenandoah at dock in Gig Harbor. Shenandoah was a fishing boat built by the Skansie Ship Building Co. Photo by M. Boland.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1957 view of Gig Harbor.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Skansie Net Shed and House

The Skansie family, from the coast of Dalmatia in present-day Croatia, first set foot in Washington Territory in 1889 with the arrival of Peter Skansie. By the turn of the century, Peter had sent for his three younger brothers – Mitchell, Andrew, and Joe (Joseph). All four brothers significantly contributed to the development of Gig Harbor with their involvement in commercial fishing, shipbuilding, and the region’s early ferry system. The Skansie Net Shed and House serves as an important link to not only the community’s fishing industry, but the Croatian heritage of many of its earliest settlers. The property is one of the best examples of a local fishing net shed and house of its type extant in the state. Itis the only location in Gig Harbor and the only documented location in the state with both an intact net shed and associated house that dates from as early as ca. 1910. The property continues to demonstrate the vital role the Skansie family played Gig Harbor’s fishing and maritime heritage.

Crescent Creek Park

The community park, at the north end of Crescent Valley Creek bridge, has picnic facilities on the landscaped grounds, developed by WPA labor between 1936 and 1939. Known today as Crescent Creek Park.

Gig Harbor Netsheds

As early as 1910, Gig Harbor’s first netsheds began appearing along the waterfront. These simple structures, many constructed with rough, hand-hewn fir were used by local fishermen to store nets and fishing gear. As the town grew, many netsheds disappeared; displaced by new development and commercial marinas. As of 2017, only 17 netsheds along the western shoreline remain, but Gig Harbor Bay still boasts the largest inventory of historic netsheds on the Puget Sound. Commercial fishing was historically Gig Harbor’s principal industry. The care of the nets was crucial for success. These nets could be as long as 1800 feet or more. The nets had to be taken apart by hand and then hung in the rafters of the shed so that the cotton would be kept dry and safe from the elements. There needed to be enough room to assemble and repair the nets by hand. The nets were then re-assembled on the grounds of the property. This old method for caring for nets has died out as nylon began to be used. But the net shed was still an important place to work on the boat and make repairs to the nets.

Ross Netshed

The Ross netshed was originally built in the late 1800’s by a Croatian by the name of John Jadrosich (later shortened to ‘Ross’). The netshed was passed on to his son, who was a commercial fisherman and moored his fishing vessel there until he passed away in the 1980’s. The netshed, along with the adjoining house, has been extensively remodeled and is now a part of a private residence.

Puratich Netshed

The Puratich netshed is one of the few that remains a working dock and netshed in Gig Harbor. It was renovated within the last few years and the original pilings were replaced with steel, environmentally friendly pilings and grated ramps that allow light to filter through to the water below.

Other Things to Do

Harbor Guide

The City of Gig Harbor has information and a map about all of Gig Harbor’s historic netsheds at They have also produced a brochure entitled “All Along the Waterfront” with a listing of this unique and fascinating slice of Gig Harbor history.

Themes You'll Find at this Main Street

• Net Sheds and the Fishing Industry

Like barns are to farms, these netsheds are to fishing vessels. Gig Harbor Bay still boasts the largest inventory of historic netsheds on the Puget Sound. A great way to view many of the netsheds is to take the Waterfront Walking Tour offered by the Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance during the summer months.


Netshed Development

In the late 1880s, the life of a fisherman in Gig Harbor was hard.  Their livelihood depended on fishing for salmon from small wooden boats in open waters.  There were no skiff engines or powered “blocks” to hoist up their gear.  The men used large heavy oars and cotton net was pulled in by hand.  At the end of each season and to prevent rot, the “web” was rinsed in “bluestone,” a copper sulphate preservative and hung to dry in modest, over-water structures called “netsheds.” These simple wood buildings provided easy access to their fishing vessels for year-round storage of their gear.  They also served as a gathering place for skippers, crews, and their families.

By the 1940s, nylon replaced cotton nets, and gas-powered engines replaced the brute strength of the crew. As the town grew, many netsheds disappeared, but the largest inventory of historic netsheds throughout the Puget Sound is located here.  Today, 17 remain, with seven still in use by Gig Harbor’s Commercial Fishing Fleet of about 35 vessels, once one of the largest fleets on the west coast.  Like the fishing vessels themselves, netsheds are an iconic reminder of Gig Harbor’s early Croatian immigrants who settled along the waterfront.