Anacortes history: W.T. Preston and a new maritime museum exhibit

If Anacortes is a microcosm of historic Pacific Northwest commerce, a great repository of that distinction is the Maritime Museum located just a few steps from the landmark W.T. Preston sternwheeler.

Access to this teeming treasure chest of maritime history is available at no charge (there is a nominal fee to tour the W.T. Preston next door).

Maritime Museum InteriorVisionary community leaders have established accessible waterfront displays ranging from outdoor interpretive kiosks to the maritime museum situated between the Preston and the once-vital railroad station. While the city’s primary history museum is housed in a former Carnegie Library building a few blocks away, community visitors can explore local maritime history where it all started on the downtown shoreline.

This center successfully meets the challenge of providing an overview of shoreline activities dating to the community’s establishment years. Learn about boat building, mills and canneries, commercial and recreational boating, and shipping and transport over the seas. From skiff to rigging, documents to photographs, the visitor will gain a sense of how the residents of this community scrapped to establish a home working jobs tied to rivers and sea.

Museum guests will discover new artifacts and rare vintage movies that were filmed along the waterfront. Look for massive enlargements of photographs of the city’s cannery row and mill row – views from 100 years ago! Buy a book by a local author. Run your fingers across the face of a six-foot wooden wheel. Examine a small, 5-HP Evinrude motor of the type used by many recreational boaters.

Maritime Museum DisplayMuseum curators are excited to feature recently-unveiled “working waterfront” exhibits titled: “Puget Pulp Pioneers.” These exhibits tell the 50-year story of a Fidalgo Island pulp mill that provided paychecks for hundreds of Anacortes families. Many fascinating display elements were made available from private collections. Citizen “collaborators” included more than a dozen people who once worked for the Scott Paper Company.

“Puget Pulp Pioneers is an exhibit that already has added hundreds of artifacts and associated information to the Anacortes Museum collection,” said Museum Director Bret Lunsford. “This mill was a sprawling facility spread along Fidalgo Bay between 15th and 20th streets, an area that now contains Seafarers’ Memorial Park, the Marine Technology Center and private property yet to be re-developed.”

Real estate in this modest space is at a premium, so the pulp mill exhibit is surrounded on all sides – including ceiling-mounted displays such as a bright red boat rowed by local resident Betty Lowman from Anacortes to Alaska. It is impossible to miss the center stage prototype “Oracle,” winner of the 33rd America’s Cup. Among other displays are interpretive panels telling the story of the late newspaper publisher Wallie Funk’s eye-opening trip to Alaska with commercial fishermen.  From the beginning, Lunsford notes, much of the city’s maritime industry involved the catch, canning or distribution of fish and crab from Alaska. “There has always been an Alaska connection for Anacortes,” he said, “dating back to the Matheson cannery that processed cod from the Bering Sea.”  That remains true today, as the city is home to a small commercial fishing fleet (some boats local, some go north). Active processing plants including Trident Seafoods, SeaBear, and Sugiyo.  “Core elements of our maritime displays will always remain,” Lunsford said of the museum.

Salmon Cans on Display at the Maritime MuseumOne could say the director has turned the place inside out for museum guests. Those familiar with the building situated between the old railroad depot and the W.T. Preston will notice a series of detailed interpretive panels posted on three of four exterior walls. In addition, historic tidbits are illustrated with a generous collection of exterior-mounted photographs.

“I think it’s great that people today can literally walk through the areas once populated by mills, canneries and marinas,” said Lunsford. “From railroad depot to museum, W.T. Preston to Cap Sante Marina, our shoreline esplanade offers an experience that is unique to our city.”

As noted, admission to the new maritime exhibit is free, while guided tours of the W.T. Preston require a ticket. The Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center and W.T. Preston are located on the Anacortes waterfront at 703 “R” Avenue.  There is a seasonal six-days-a-week schedule at the maritime center and Preston. It runs in June, July and August, Tuesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays). For details, visit the city museum website.

Anacortes Maritime History

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