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Boat Builders of Old Town Tacoma

Written by: Mary Bowlby

Originally published as part of a museum exhibit at Job Carr Cabin Museum in 2017.

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.

Stephen Babare

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.

The crew of the "Solta," which was built at the Babare Bros. Shipyard

Source: Slavonian Hall

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.

Martin Petrich

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.

Adolf Cummings

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.

Add Cummings, Journeyman Certificate

Adolph is credited with saving the Dickman Mill head saw after a fire in 1979. Cummings Park along Ruston Way is named in his honor.

Acknowledgements

Olivia Inglin

Tacoma Public Libraries, Northwest Room

Foss Waterway Seaport

Ships of the Inland Sea by Gordon R. Newell

Steamer to Tacoma by Thompson & Beach

Puget’s Sound by Murray Morgan

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