Old Town’s shipbuilders met the needs of the changing maritime industry as the region grew out of its frontier past and into the 20th century economy. Boat builders on Commencement Bay constructed canoes, sailboats, steamboats, fishing boats, ferries and tugboats.
Babare Shipyards in Old Town Tacoma
Stephen Babare immigrated from Croatia and established a boatyard at the foot of Carr Street in the 1890s. He designed and built purse seiners for local fishermen, but they were soon selling throughout Puget Sound. The business became Babare Bros. Shipbuilders in time to take on government contracts with the onset of WWI. The shipyard moved to the tideflats in 1919.
Crawford & Reid
Also established in the 1890s, Crawford & Reid Boatbuilders provided many steamboats that served the famed Mosquito Fleet, as well as several tugboats. One old-timer said: “You can almost pick out a Crawford & Reid boat on sight. They all have a proud look about them.”
The Florence K awaits at the dock in Gig Harbor preparing for the return trip to Tacoma.
Source: Tacoma Public Libraries
The Crawford & Reid ferry fleet included the S. G. Simpson, the Florence K. and the Dix. The S. G. Simpson covered the Shelton-Olympia run from 1907 to 1945, and the Florence K. served Gig Harbor. The S.S. Dix, sadly, was involved in a tragic event only two years after its launch, losing 45 of 77 passengers when struck by a steam schooner in Elliott Bay.
Also from Croatia, Martin Petrich started building boats in 1916. At first, he co-owned Western Boat Building Co. — located east of Old Town Dock — with Joe Martinac, Sr. They soon decided demand could support two separate boatyards. Martin was a skilled craftsman. Like Babare, he specialized in building fishing boats.
His company eventually moved to the Tideflats and produced minesweepers during WWII and large, sleek tuna clippers. The most famous fishing boat built there was the Western Flyer – built for Tacoma native Tony Berry, for Sardine fishing off the coast of California. The Western Flyer was chartered by John Steinbeck for an expedition during which he wrote the book The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
In 1946, Adolf “Ad” Cummings opened Cummings Boat Company at 3501 Ruston Way. Cummings’ path to a career in boatbuilding took a few turns (including a stint in the Army Air Corps during WWII), but his company eventually contributed several durable fishing and pleasure craft to Northwest waters.
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