Once the location of a Coast Salish village, Tahlequah was initially called Clam Cove by 19th century settlers, before acquiring its current name in 1920, along with its identity as the site of the major ferry dock serving Vashon Island’s south end.
In 1841, a glowing tribute to the beauty of a Tahlequah sunset was recorded by Lt. Georges Colvocoresses of Charles Wilkes’s U.S. Exploring Expedition, for whom the island’s western “Colvos Passage” would be named. Permanent settlers arrived four decades later, and by 1904, picnickers could pay fifteen cents for a round-trip ride by launch from the boathouse at Tacoma’s Point Defiance. For fifty cents in 1915, tourists from Seattle in curious to see “the Home of the Big Strawberries” could ride the steamers Virginia II and Virginia III down the Colvos Passage all the way down to Clam Cove.
Car ferry service began the following year, and for the next five years, Vashon Islanders had an unparalleled wealth of ferry options, with nine different ferries serving thirty-two docks. In 1920, Pierce County opened a new ferry service from Point Defiance to Gig Harbor and to the dock site now named Tahlequah. The fare to Tacoma was a mere five cents. In 1926, the Skansie brothers’ Washington Navigation Company purchased rights to the service from the county, along with the ferries City of Tacoma and Gig Harbor. In 1941, the service was taken over by the Puget Sound Navigation Company—also known as the Black Ball Line.
After a strike and a rate increase in 1947, voters disenchanted with Capt. Alexander Peabody’s Black Ball Line approved the formation of the Vashon Ferry District, which ran the route until the new Washington State Ferry System took over in 1951. Ships that worked the route included the troubled Vashonia, the venerable Skansonia, and the Fox Island, pictured in a 1941 postcard in the collection of the Sakahara family. In 1967, the Skansonia was replaced by the Hiyu, and fifty years later, both ferries are permanently docked in Seattle’s Lake Union, available to rent for weddings and other special events.
Author: Vince Schleitwiler