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The Mosquito Fleet


Written by: Mary Bowlby

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

The Mosquito Fleet was a loosely connected and ever-changing group of privately operated steamboats that served Puget Sound communities – large and small – from around 1860 until the early 1930s.

Transportation across Puget Sound

Water travel was easier than taking the rough (almost non-existent) roads through the thick forests. Numbers demonstrate the fact that this service was essential. The 1890 population of Tacoma was 36,006; in Seattle, 43,000. Compare that with the total count of passengers transported on Mosquito Fleet boats in 1889: 892,000!

The first steamboat to stop offshore from Tacoma City was the stately Eliza Anderson. She arrived on a foggy morning in August 1868, delivering her passengers (Mr. & Mrs. C. P. Ferry) to shore via a tender boat, as the first Old Town Dock was yet to be built. McCarver saw to it that “McCarver’s Wharf” was built in 1873, making it easier to travel by steamer.

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The Eliza Anderson was also the first Mosquito Fleet steamboat to deliver mail in the region. Another ship, the Alida, was the first to provide direct mail connections between Tacoma and Olympia.

The Alida provided regular transportation between Tacoma and Olympia from 1869 to 1873. When the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed, the Alida was responsible for ferrying passengers from Old Town to the NP dock at New Tacoma.

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In August 1873, the Alida helped Thomas Prosch to relocate his newspaper from Olympia to Tacoma.

For two months in late 1881, the Alida served as a makeshift quarantine hospital for victims of New Tacoma's smallpox epidemic.

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The Alida under way

Mosquito Fleet service lasted approximately 70 years. During that time 43 passenger ferries were built in Tacoma boatyards. Crawford & Reid Boatbuilders built a total of 5 of these in Old Town. They were all launched from the Crawford & Reid Boatbuilders’ ways, located next to Babare Boatbuilding at the present site of the Silver Cloud Inn.

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Steamboat Lines listed in the Puget Sound Directory, 1887