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Colman Dock

colman dock ferry seattle, colman dock
Colman Dock, also called Pier 52, is an important ferry terminal in Seattle, Washington The original pier is no longer in existence, but the terminal, now used by the Washington State Ferry system, is still called "Colman Dock"


  • 1 Location
  • 2 History
  • 3 Current status
  • 4 Notes
  • 5 References


Colman Dock from the Seattle–Bainbridge ferry, with Smith Tower in the background

Originally Colman Dock was located at the foot of Columbia Street, and was immediately to the north of Pier 2 Before 1910, the wharf immediately to the north of Colman dock was used by the West Seattle ferry In 1910 this wharf was replaced with the Grand Trunk Pacific dock1 In 1964 the entire area was used for the much larger ferry terminal dock which exists today


Colman dock clock tower on right between 1912 and 1914

Pier 52 was historically known as Colman Dock The original Colman Dock was built by Scottish engineer James Colman in 1882 It burned with most of the rest of the city in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, but was quickly rebuilt23 In 1908, Colman extended the dock to a total length of 705 feet 215 m4 and added a domed waiting room and a 72-foot 22 m clocktower

Colman also set up a company, the Colman Dock Company, to conduct the dock's business affairs5 Following the merger of the La Conner Transportation Company, headed by Joshua Green 1869–1975, with the Puget Sound Navigation Company PSN, headed by Charles E Peabody 1857–1926 the Colman Dock Company, and the Colman Dock itself, came under PSN control In 1910, PSN was approaching monopoly control over the inland steamship routes of western Washington, with the company's most serious challenger being the Kitsap County Transportation Company KCTC, headed by Kitsap County businessman Warren L Gazzam 1864–1961 The rivalry between the two companies became almost a personal matter between Green and Gazzam In 1910, Green, having obtained control of Colman Dock, and engaged in a rate war with KCTC, ordered KCTC not to land its boats at Colman Dock KCTC then moved several piers north, to the Galbraith, Bacon dock5

Colman Dock with mosquito fleet ships in 1912

Colman Dock was seriously damaged when, on the night of April 25, 1912, the steel-hulled ship Alameda accidentally set its engines "full speed ahead" instead of reversing, and slammed into the dock The dock tower fell into the bay and the sternwheeler Telegraph was sunk The clock was salvaged, as was the Telegraph, and the dock was reconstructed with a new tower2 No one died in the Alameda accident, but a less dramatic accident the following month proved fatal On May 19, 1912, a gangplank collapsed as passengers were boarding the Black Ball steamer Flyer At least 60 people fell into the water One woman and one child died6

In 1917, Colman Dock was owned and operated by Colman Dock Company, with B P Morgan as manager Colman Dock was the terminal of the Puget Sound Navigation Company, the Merchants Transportation Company, and several Puget Sound shipping lines Colman Dock measured 700 by ll5 feet, with 1,400 feet of berthing space In 1917 an overhead walk still in existence in 19835 led from the Seattle business district to the waiting room, from which most of the Puget Sound steamship passenger traffic originated There were also adjustable passenger gangplanks and adjustable freight slips In 1917 Colman Dock was equipped with a Barlow marine elevator Colman Dock could accommodate 14 Puget Sound steamboats at one time There were offices on the north side of the overhead walk1

In the mid-1930s Puget Sound Navigation Company modernized Colman Dock, using an Art Deco style that matched their streamlined signature ferry MV Kalakala35

In 1935, Colman Dock became the Seattle terminal for what had been the Alki–Manchester ferry when the dock at Alki Point washed out5

In 1951, Washington State bought out PSNC and took over the ferry system The state paid $500,000 for the ferry terminal at Colman Dock5

Work on the present terminal began a decade later; there have been several reconfigurations and modernizations since3 The very month that the state ferry terminal opened, it was the subject of another accident The Kalakala, which had recently been voted Seattle's second biggest attraction after the then-new Space Needle,7 rammed the terminal February 21, 1966 Though dramatic, the damage proved not to be severe The ferry needed only minor repairs and was back in service the next day Repairs to the slip cost $80,000 and took two months to complete8

The clock from the old Colman Dock tower, dunked into the bay in the 1912 Alameda accident and removed in the 1936 renovation, was rediscovered lying in pieces in 1976, purchased by the Port of Seattle in 1985, restored, given as a gift to the Washington State Department of Transportation, and reinstalled on the present Colman Dock May 18, 19852

Current statusedit

Seattle's waterfront from the Bainbridge Island ferry as it approaches the Seattle ferry terminal at Colman Dock Ferry unloading at Colman Dock, 2006

Four ferry routes currently depart from Colman Dock: the Washington State Ferries Seattle–Bainbridge ferry and Seattle–Bremerton ferry; and the King County Passenger Ferry Seattle-West Seattle and Seattle-Vashon Island routes


  1. ^ a b Beaton, Welford, ed Frank Waterhouse & Company's Pacific Ports: A Commercial Geography 1917, at pages 27-37 accessed 06-09-11
  2. ^ a b c Alan J Stein, Colman Clock Seattle Archived July 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, HistoryLink, December 4, 2005 Accessed 18 October 2008
  3. ^ a b c Paul Dorpat, Seattle Central Waterfront Tour, Part 4: From Mosquito Fleet to Ferry System at Colman Dock, HistoryLink, May 24, 2000 Accessed 18 October 2008
  4. ^ Thomas Street History Services 2006, p 19
  5. ^ a b c d e f Kline and Bayless, Ferryboats – A Legend on Puget Sound, at pages 84, 135, 146, 160, 182, 240-44, 303, and 310
  6. ^ Daryl C McClary, Colman Dock Seattle gangplank failure dunks passengers boarding steamer Flyer, injuring 58 and drowning two, on May 19, 1912 Archived July 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, HistoryLink, February 24, 2005 Accessed 18 October 2008
  7. ^ Kalakala Timeline Archived October 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Kalakala Alliance Foundation Accessed online 19 October 2008
  8. ^ Alan J Stein, Ferry Kalakala rams new Seattle Ferry Terminal on February 21, 1966, HistoryLink, March 4, 2001 Accessed online 19 October 2008


  • Beaton, Welford, ed Frank Waterhouse & Company's Pacific Ports: A Commercial Geography 1917 accessed 06-09-11
  • Kline, Mary S, and Bayless, GA, Ferryboats -- A Legend on Puget Sound, Bayless Books, Seattle, WA 1983 ISBN 0-914515-00-4
  • Newell, Gordon R, ed, HW McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior Publishing Co, Seattle, WA 1966
  • State of Washington, Public Utilities Comm'n, Third Annual Report covering the period from Dec 1, 1912 to Nov 30, 1913, Vol 3, at page 199 accessed 06-09-11

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