When the last auto ferry completes its round trip run from Edmonds to Kingston on May 19, 2023, it will conclude the first 100 years of the ferry run between the two cities. This three-part series provides a glimpse into the ferry run’s first two-and-a-half years of operation. plus a brief look back at Puget Sound water travel prior to the establishment of the Washington State ferry system. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
With the large success of the first five months of the Edmonds-to-Kingston and Port Gamble-to-Shine ferry runs, the Joyce Brothers announced a reduced schedule during the winter months, which they hoped would allow them to tend to some of the issues facing them in 1924. Unfortunately, the next five months was filled with major challenges.
The 1923 winter schedule reduced the round trips to three times a day, every day, from Edmonds to Kingston. But the Port Gamble-to-Shine run remained at four round trips daily, due to the shorter run and the increased traffic to the Kitsap Peninsula.
As the winter schedule went into effect, the Joyce Brothers went looking for an additional boat to put on the Edmonds-Kingston run. In late September, they announced the purchase of the steamboat Dauntless.
In the Edmonds Tribune Review announcement, Joyce Brothers stated that the Dauntless “is a steamboat 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. With this boat made over into a ferry, she will accommodate at least 25 automobiles and will be capable of handling the traffic which has, in the first season of operation, outgrown the capacity of the ferry boat in use.”
The Dauntless was then taken to Clinton on Whidbey Island for remodeling and went through a couple short trials before being moved over to Kingston for the final remodeling processes.
As the weather worsened in late autumn, the ferry system’s scheduled departures and arrivals were greatly impacted. The ferries often had to navigate through thick fog banks that appeared across Puget Sound. Like the steamboats before them, the ferries did not have radar, GPS or depth finders. The captains had to travel slowly, rely on compasses and listen for echoes off the shore from their whistles or horns to navigate.
For the ferries to be able to find their way, the captains had to be extremely knowledgeable and able to interpret the echoes to know exactly where they were in relationship to the docks and slips. It was hoped that the echoes echoing back were not from other ships in the Sound, but only from the land ahead. It definitely was not an ideal situation, and at times the fog was so thick that the ferry runs had to be suspended for days.
Then in mid-December, a severe windstorm hit the east side of Puget Sound. As reported in the Edmonds Tribune Review:
Storm Damages Edmonds dock – logs from Mill tear out Piling in ferry dock.
The heavy northwest wind this morning loosened a bunch of logs in the Oakland Shingle Company’s boom, driving them through the ferry dock and lodging them against the Mutual mill boom.
Nine pilings are missing from the dock as a result. The apron was also torn loose.
The ferry men inspected the dock this morning and are already arranging to have a piledriver here as soon as possible to make repairs. It is expected that the ferry service will not be possible for a least two weeks.
Repairs were made quickly, however, and the ferry was back in service the following week. Repairs were estimated at $3,000. But another major storm was going to prove even more disastrous.
In January 1924, another windstorm hit the Puget Sound region. The Edmonds Tribune Review published this account two days later.
Dauntless Is Wrecked by Gale – Sound Ferry System Lose Boat Purchased For Local Ferry Run
Torn from her moorings at Kingston by the northwest gale, the steamboat Dauntless, owned by Sound Ferry Lines was blown across the Sound and pounded itself to pieces on the heavy piling of a fish trap at Meadow Point, just north of Seattle.
The hull and upperworks of the ship were totally demolished, but parts of the machinery may be saved.
The Dauntless was undergoing a remodel to a ferry for her use on the Edmonds to Kingston run next summer. She was valued at $20,000.
The docks on both sides of the Sound apparently were also severely damaged by the storm as the ferry runs were suspended the following week for “re-building and overhauling” of the docks and their supports.
Undaunted by all the losses, the Joyce Brothers went looking for yet another boat to put on the Edmonds-to- Kingston run. When they heard that a freight boat, the Rubiyat, had capsized off Tacoma and sank, they realized it was about the same size as their City of Edmonds ferry. They arranged to purchase the hull, raised it from the sea bed and towed it to Clinton, where they started to build a new ferry.
With the hull in hand, the Joyce Brothers announced that the new ferry boat would be named City of Kingston, and that it would be about the same size as the City of Edmonds ferry, with a capacity of 14 cars. The ship building went well, and the City of Kingston went into service on May 1, 1924.
Throughout the summer of 1924, the traffic volume continued to build on both the east and west sides of Puget Sound. Both foot and car passengers who hadn’t traveled before on steamboats or a ferry started to take day trips to explore Edmonds and Kingston. The predictability of the ferries and the existence of two boats on the run increased the ferries’ popularity. To accommodate the increase in passengers, a new waiting area was built on the end of the dock in Edmonds, which allowed people to go inside while they waited.
Kingston was also experiencing a boom. Historically, only a few folks had traveled in the summer to the Kingston area for any form of vacation. A couple of groups came each summer, pitched a tent along the shore and stayed a few days. But with the advent of the auto ferries and increased passengers, facilities started to be built to provide accommodations for those seeking a nearby getaway or a longer vacation.
The citizens of Kingston also benefited from the jobs created by the ferries themselves. Dock workers as well as onboard personnel were needed from early morning to late into the evening.
The 1924 summer schedule reflected the expansion of the ferry runs. Ten departures daily were available from Edmonds and Kingston. The Port Gamble-to-Shine ferry also had 10 runs that were coordinated with the cross-Puget Sound runs.
At the end of 1924, the ferry system had been a huge success, despite all the early weather related setbacks. Passenger volume had more than doubled. Each of the ferries had performed well, and the decreased wait times had eliminated many of the early complaints by the passengers and town residents.
Despite several dock-damaging storms in the winter of 1924 that required repairs, 1925 brought further improvements and expansion of the ferry system. Docks were fortified to better withstand the weather and to also handle the heavier trucks and their cargo as auto freight lines started to emerge.
Seeing the benefits of the initial ferries, Kingston added a ferry run from Kingston to Ballard in April. The one-boat operation, run by Captain Harry Crosby on the Elk, provided two round trips daily to Ballard.
In late spring, the Joyce Brothers also began a new ferry service from Edmonds to Port Ludlow, which had been initially proposed two years earlier. The Joyce Brothers had purchased another steamboat, The Morningstar, in September 1924 and had remodeled it so that it could act as a car ferry. Once the ferry company had completed the dock at Port Ludlow, they renamed the steamboat Clatawa, and began the run on May 6, 1925. The run provided four round trips daily to Port Ludlow.
The new ferry schedule published in the summer of 1925 provided a combined schedule of departure and arrival times for each of the Sound Ferry Line’s ferries out of Edmonds. Information was also provided in regards to the Edmonds-to-Port Ludlow run, and connecting bus lines in Seattle and Port Angeles.
With minimal operating difficulties the ferry system continued to prove itself as a reliable means of travel throughout 1925. With the success, the Joyce Bros. expanded their promotions of the ferry runs, promising exciting travel adventures.
Sound Ferry Lines’ maps that appeared in local papers showed direct routes from Edmonds to Kingston and Port Gamble to Shine via dotted lines, and the newly established Edmonds-to-Port Ludlow run via a narrow gray line.
The Joyce Brothers also plastered large, eye-catching 24-by-36-inch posters around downtown Seattle with illustrations of the ferry routes along with the ferries’ schedules, which attracted hundreds if not thousands of people who wanted to travel and seek adventure.
By the end of 1925, the impact of the new ferry system could easily be seen. Kingston was no longer isolated, and as Kingston historian Harold Osbourne wrote, Kingston had become the “Gateway to the Olympics” due to the Joyce Brothers entrepreneurship and their ferries.
Port Gamble was not isolated any longer either. Its mill workers and lumber products now had a faster and easier route to travel to the east side of Puget Sound, and into the metropolis.
In Edmonds, the Edmonds Tribune Review noted:
“The ferry between Edmonds and Kingston provides an outlet for the poultrymen and berry growers on the peninsula on which Kingston is located, the employees f the Puget Mill Company at Port Gamble as well as other residents of that section. Furthermore it provides a means whereby motorists may reach that wonderfully scenic portion of the Puget Sound country.
With the Port Gamble – Shine ferry in operation it opens up a field of commerce the extent of which can only be a matter of conjecture. The Olympic Peninsula is only in its infancy of its development, and with such a direct outlet to markets as the ferries afford, this development will be more rapidly advanced.
The Olympic Peninsula also affords untold possibilities for the tourist and sportsman, with its snow-clad mountains, silvery lakes, turbulent streams and un-surveyed forests.”
Despite all the weather challenges that Puget Sound had presented, in less than two-and-a-half years the new ferry system had proven itself to be viable, and a extremely beneficial, to multiple communities. In opened up a new world to people who wanted to travel and at the same time greatly improved the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in the Puget Sound region.
The initial lease agreement between the Joyce Brothers and the City of Edmonds for the use of the dock was $2 annually. It was deemed that if the Joyce Brothers maintained the dock and slip, the City of Edmonds would derive sufficient financial benefit from the ferry traffic. That proved to be true and the financial agreement was kept in place for many years.
The Joyce Brothers sold Sound Ferry Lines Inc. to Puget Sound Navigation Co., aka the “Black Ball” line, in 1927. Puget Sound Navigation Co. subsequently dominated thePuget Sound ferry business until 1951. With the purchase, Puget Sound Navigation placed larger ferries on each of the runs to accommodate the increased traffic.
The five Joyce brothers retired after the sale and moved their residences to Kingston and the surrounding area.
A new ferry run from Edmonds to Victoria B.C. began in 1928, but due to legal and financial problems the run only lasted two years.
In 1931 a ferry run from Edmonds to Port Townsend was implemented, and lasted until 1939.
A second ferry run from Edmonds to Victoria began in 1935, and proved to be successful.
In the summer of 1935, there were 31 ferries departing daily from Edmonds to various locations – Edmonds was labeled “the hub” of ferry traffic at the time.
In 1951, Washington State Ferries purchased the ferry system and still manages the ferry system today.
This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. The article would not have been possible without the research assistance of the Kitsap County Historical Museum, The Kingston Historical Society and associated library, the Edmonds Historical Museum, the Port Gamble Historical Museum, Sno-Isle Genealogical Society, Washington State Historical Society, and the Everett Library Northwest Room.