Prior to 1920, Japanese American farmers from Vashon Island used a variety of docks to transport their produce, via the swarm of steamships crossing Puget Sound popularly known as the “Mosquito Fleet.” With the rise of the north-end ferry service to Seattle, however, Vashon Heights became the most popular transit point for strawberry farmers like the Matsuda and Fujioka families. The Mukai family shipped its strawberries in barrels for freezing and further shipment in Seattle via the dock, and the Hoshi family used it to bring their flowers to Pike Place Market and to their shop on Jackson Street.
Although Vashon Heights was passed over when voters chose Portage and Des Moines as the sites for the new King County ferry service opening in 1916, its boosters never accepted defeat. In 1919, a new ferry dock was built at the north end, replacing one that served the old Mosquito Fleet steamers, and service began from Vashon Heights to Harper and Seattle. Within two years, with the construction of the paved Leif Hamilton Scenic Highway from Center, Vashon Heights had supplanted Portage as the island’s major ferry dock. In 1922, the Des Moines route was suspended, and in 1925 the Vashon Heights service added the Fauntleroy dock in West Seattle along with its existing stop at Marion Street.
Preferences for the two stops on the Seattle side were debated for years, but a 1939 poll of islanders led to their eventual settlement in favor of Fauntleroy, the location still in use today. 1939 also saw an extended ferry strike, which inspired the so-called “Vashon Vigilantes” to temporarily seize the ferry Elwha. Nine years later, the Vigilantes figured in another colorful scene, after voters approved a new Vashon Ferry District to replace Captain Alexander Peabody’s unpopular Black Ball Line. When Peabody attempted to reestablish service, he was thwarted by a group of Vigilantes, who successfully prevented the landing of the ferry Illahee by using long-handled tools to shove it away from the dock.
For many Japanese Americans, however, the Vashon Heights dock was the site of their final departure from the island—a forced removal that opened a notorious chapter in U.S history. On May 16, 1942, at the order of the War Relocation Authority, the entire community was gathered at Ober Park, and transported under armed military guard onto a special ferry to Pier 52 in Seattle. From there, they were marched to King Street Station, where a train with covered windows would carry them all the way to a detention center at Pinedale, California.
Author: Vince Schleitwiler