An aerial view of the Fishermen’s Terminal, circa 1985. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat
An aerial view of the Fishermen’s Terminal, circa 1985. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat


The earliest fishermen using Salmon Bay were American Indians, specifically the Shilshole-Ahmish (people of Shilshole), who lived in the settlements at the north end of Salmon Bay and fished for their livelihood. The early day residents lived with mature forests — likely fir, cedar, hemlocks and spruce.

As non-Indian settlers moved into the area, a partnership of James and Daniel O’Leary and William Cochran put loggers to work, and by the early 1900s, only a few old-growth trees remained standing.

In time, modest parcels of cleared land supported houses and outbuildings. Subsistence farming made its appearance. Several creeks emptied into the Salmon Bay from Magnolia and Ballard. At low tides, muddy tidal flats appeared.

An 1884 City of Seattle report noted that the beaches near the entrance to the Bay were excellent for clam digging, and there was an abundant supply of crab, clams, oysters, mussels and shrimp.

In early photos, the beaches appeared open, with a few snags deposited by the tidal action.

Early non-Indian settlers appeared in the mid-1850s and began filing land claims in the 1860s. A Land Office map revealed Edmond Carr, H. A. Smith and John Ross filed claims on areas that are the site of today’s Fishermen’s Terminal.

An 1884 Seattle Public Library map — prepared by F. C. Tucker, Civil Engineer and Surveyor, for Eshelman Llewellyn and Co. — placed the area for the Fishermen’s Terminal in the Pike Addition. This map indicated that a creek flowed through the terminal area, and the water came from the northwest side of Queen Anne. Today, there is no evidence of this stream.

As reported by the Ballard News-Tribune on July 26, 1902: “A war has broken out between the Puget Sound fish-trap owners and the gill-net fishermen.” The gillnetters went into the Salmon Bay traps and fished, and the trap owners had them arrested. The gillnetters then declared the presence of traps in Puget Sound contrary to federal laws.

At the time, more than 500 men were engaged in trap fishing. The number of “trappers” at work gives substantial evidence to the presence of large numbers of salmon in Salmon Bay.

After condemnation and land acquisition in 1912, construction began on Fishermen’s Terminal in 1913. At that time, Magnolia consisted of a few hundred residents and a small number of subsistence farms. Two wooden bridges provided access to downtown.

Construction of the Hiram Chittenden Locks was underway following groundbreaking ceremonies on Nov. 10, 1912.

The first significant step in the creation of Fishermen’s Terminal was when the Port of Seattle Commissioners voted to adopt changes in the harbor lines of Salmon Bay in December 1911, which would result in one of the “districts” becoming Fishermen’s Terminal.

The motion carried unanimously. The land allocated for the new terminal consisted of approximately 35.4 acres between 15th and 20th Avenue West and between West Emerson Street and Salmon Bay Waterway.

By the end of 1912, the Port of Seattle Commission’s first annual report called the project “snug harbor” and proposed acquiring more land in the Interbay railroad yards for future commercial development. In 1913, Fishermen’s Terminal became a functioning, identifiable facility on the edge of Salmon Bay, alongside the Northern Pacific Railroad trestle, a wooden structure that connected Magnolia, Queen Anne and Ballard.

At this time, the Salmon Bay waterway connected directly to Shilshole Bay and was subjected to the daily tides and the saltwater of Puget Sound. This condition would change when the Hiram Chittenden Locks began operation in 1917, and freshwater flowed from Lake Washington and Lake Union and surrounded the terminal’s piers and docks. Freshwater eliminates the barnacles, which, in salt water, attach themselves to hulls and increase vessel drag.

In late 1914, the Port of Seattle exchanged the title to a portion of Smith’s Cove Waterway Commission with the Great Northern Railway Co., receiving in return title to the property consisting of the Salmon Bay Terminal property and what was called “Tract B,” which included approximately 7.67 acres south and 0.83 acres north of West Emerson Street.

While the Hiram Chittenden Locks were under construction, the Port of Seattle completed a permanent bulkhead and a new pier to expand Fishermen’s Terminal. Completion of the $500,000 facility heralded a new era in the fishing industry, and a parade of nearly 200 boats opened the celebration.


One hundred years later, Fishermen’s Terminal remains a welcoming sight for returning professional fishermen and women as they come home from their seasons at sea.

The Port of Seattle is committed to maintaining Fishermen’s Terminal as the homeport of more than 500 commercial vessels of the North Pacific fishing fleet. Recent upgrades — including lasting concrete and metal docks and pilings, extensive lighting and security camera installations, and expanded indoor and outdoor storage, plus legal services, accounting and insurance offices, a grocery and even a barbershop — make Fishermen’s Terminal unlike any other fishing port on the West Coast.

Events like the annual Fishermen’s Fall Festival serve to showcase as well as educate about all of the hard work that goes into harvesting an estimated 50 percent of the United States’ landed fish catch. Visitors to the terminal may not be aware that this part of Seattle represents an economic contribution of $5 billion to the area.

Commercial fishing remains a dangerous profession. Fishermen’s Terminal is home to the Fishermen’s Memorial, an impressive stone-and-bronze sculpture honoring the many local fishermen and women who have lost their lives in the pursuit of their work. A memorial service is offered each spring, on the first Sunday of May, to honor all those who have died at sea and to add new names to the plaque.

This year’s memorial service will take place on May 4. The Fishermen’s Fall Festival will happen on Oct. 4. For more information, visit or


The full article, “Fishermen's Terminal: Million-Dollar Industry” by Sam. L. Sutherland, can be found in the book “Magnolia: Memories & Milestones,” available from the Magnolia Historical Society (

JOELY JOHNSON MORK is a board member of the Magnolia Historical Society ( To comment on this column, write to