Seattle Now & Then: Virginia V centennial, 1922

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Backed by a working Seattle waterfront, the Virginia V takes its first voyage on June 11, 1922. (Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Williamson Collection)
NOW1: Flanked by sailboats while gliding west from Lake Union, the Virginia V cruises toward the Ballard Locks and Shilshole Bay on July 9, prior to a Bainbridge Island Historical Museum cruise the following day. For info on chartering, tours, field trips, events (such as in Olympia Sept. 3-4) and volunteer opportunities, visit (Jean Sherrard)
THEN2: As shown in the June 20, 1922, Seattle Times, Seattle Camp Fire Girls and counselors board the Virginia V at the downtown waterfront for a two-week stint at Camp Sealth at the southwest corner of Vashon Island. The name Lisabeula, on the life ring, represented a community north of the camp, reportedly named for two women who operated its tiny post office. (Seattle Times)
NOW2: At the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park near the Museum of History & Industry. replicating the 1922 photo are (from left) John McClintock, crew member; Sara Intriligator, passenger; Debra Alderman, foundation executive director; Rebecca Laszlo, passenger; Ed Brown, senior docent; John Arnesen, passenger; Will Wagner and Steven Walsh, crew members; Tad Bixby, passenger; and Mark Miller, finance manager and crew member. Above are (from left) Alison Greene, passenger; and Megan Kolenski and Le Qi Huang, crew interns. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Aug. 25, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Aug. 28, 2022

The magical Virginia V: a century of weaving maritime memories
By Clay Eals
THEN3: Dressed somewhat like 100 years earlier, Brad Chrisman (left) and Clay Eals of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society strike a pose serious enough for 1888 while standing at the bow of the Virginia V during a Dec. 10, 1988, cruise to celebrate the centennial of the first ferry on Puget Sound. (Brad Chrisman collection)

We all seek to create indelible memories. One of mine came in 1988 when I helped lead a Southwest Seattle Historical Society cruise to celebrate the first voyage of the City of Seattle, the first ferryboat on Puget Sound. Sadly, the original craft had ventured south to become a houseboat in Sausalito. So, standing — or, shall I say, floating — in was another vintage vessel, Seattle’s legendary passenger carrier, the Virginia V.

What a glorious two-hour trip we had. Though 200 were aboard, the steamer felt like a comfy cottage, a buoyant sanctuary. Our vice-president, Neal Lockett, joked that everyone must have had a good time because no one left early. But the sentiment transcended jest. We’d been soothed equally by tradition and tranquility.

For 100 years, the Virginia V has woven such maritime magic. It is the last of five “Virginia” ships, the first incarnation named for Virginia Merrill, whose later marriage resulted in a vast Bainbridge Island garden known today as Bloedel Reserve.

The 120-foot-long Virginia V originally was operated by West Pass Transportation Company, an indication of its headquarters and midway stop in regular runs between Tacoma and Seattle along the west side of rural Vashon Island. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, the Virginia V remains the sole surviving Mosquito Fleet steamship among hundreds of private craft that once plied Puget Sound like a swarm of busy bugs.

THEN5: The Virginia V’s first regular sailing schedule, from the June 23, 1922, Vashon Island News-Record. (Washington Digital Newspapers)

Before transporting farmers, freight, excursionists and even World War II soldiers, the Virginia V forged its earliest identity as the summertime vehicle for hundreds of Seattle Camp Fire Girls to reach the recently purchased Camp Sealth on Vashon’s southwest shore. Before being towed to Seattle for installation of its boilers and engines, the Virginia V was christened March 2, 1922, by Camp Fire secretary Ellen Bringloe.

“If sea traditions are to be trusted,” the Seattle Times reported, “Dame Fortune smiled favorably upon the Virginia V, for with one blow Miss Bringloe shattered the bottle of grape juice over the keel, and as if cheered by this good luck, the boat glided smoothly down the ways, splashed gently into the Sound and floated proudly off.”

THEN4: Shown in the Oct. 22, 1934, Seattle Times is the severely damaged Virginia V during a storm near tiny Olalla. The wreck imperiled 25-30 passengers. A few were injured, and many lost luggage, but amazingly, the vessel’s power plant and hull were unharmed. Six weeks and $11,000 worth of repairs later, the boat went back into service. (Seattle Times, courtesy Virginia V Foundation)

After a century of service — including a 1934 wreck during a storm near the Kitsap County hamlet of Olalla and a brief 1942 Portland-Astoria run on the Columbia River, along with expensive latter-day restorations mounted by a dedicated foundation — the Virginia V still invites passengers to tour Puget Sound.

Seemingly unscathed by modern modes of transit, it continues to make memories for us all. Did I mention its exhilarating steam whistle?


Thanks to Debra Alderman, Alicia Barnes, Wendy Malloy and the crew of the Virginia V for their help with this installment!

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Below are 2 videos, 9 additional photos and 42 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

(VIDEO: 11:49) Click the image above to see video impressions of a July 9, 2022, cruise on the Virginia V. Be sure to listen for the steam whistle! (Clay Eals)
(VIDEO: 22:30) Click image above to see video of  the Southwest Seattle Historical Society cruise aboard the Virginia V on Dec. 10, 1988, to commemorate the centennial of the first ferry on Puget Sound, the City of Seattle, which ran between downtown and West Seattle starting Dec. 24, 1888, through 1913. This video consists of audio of the onboard program, supplemented with stills, song lyrics and other annotation. (Clay Eals)
The Virginia V passes beneath the Aurora Bridge. (Jean Sherrard)
The Virginia V passes beneath the opened Fremont Bridge. (Jean Sherrard)
The Virginia V passes beneath the Ballard Bridge. (Jean Sherrard)
The Virginia V arrives at the Ballard Locks. (Jean Sherrard)
Virginia V plaques. (Clay Eals)
Virginia V deck, in Lake Washington Ship Canal. (Clay Eals)
Virginia V heading west toward the Ballard Locks. (Clay Eals)
The Virginia V plies the Lake Washington Ship Canal. (Tad Bixby)
In a 360-degree view, Tad Bixby enjoys the Virginia V cruise. (Tad Bixby)

You can find additional Virginia V photos by Tad Bixby here.

March 29, 1893, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
June 8, 1900, Seattle Times, p8.
July 11, 1905, Seattle Times, p1.
July 12, 1905, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p5.
Feb. 4, 1921, Vashon Island News Record.
Aug. 21, 1931, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p61.
Jan. 1, 1922, Seattle Times, p20.
March 2, 1922, Seattle Star.
March 4, 1922, Seattle Times, p7.
March 5, 1922, Seattle Times, p31.
March 10, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
Feb. 5, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
May 12, 1922, Seattle Times, p10.
June 11, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
June 16, 1922, Seattle Star.
June 16, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
June 16, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
June 17, 1922, Seattle Times, p5.
June 18, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
June 18, 1922, Seattle Times, p27.
June 23, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
July 1, 1922, Seattle Times, p11.
July 19, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p1.
July 21, 1922, Vashon Island News Record.
July 22, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p3.
Sept. 24, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p43.
Sept. 24, 1922, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p44.
April 20, 1923, Seattle Times, p23.
April 24, 1923, Seattle Times, p2.
Oct. 22, 1934, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
Oct. 22, 1934, Seattle Times, p8.
Oct. 22, 1934, Seattle Times, p10.
Aug. 2, 1941, Seattle Times, p14.
Feb. 21, 1942, Seattle Times, p10.
Feb. 22, 1942, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p2.
April 2, 1942, Seattle Times, p16.
April 3, 1942, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p24.
Aug. 26, 1942, Seattle Times, p17.
Dec. 4, 1942, Seattle Times, p30.
Dec. 5, 1942, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p9.
Feb. 18, 1944, Seattle Times, p26.
May 26, 1944, Seattle Times, p10.
July 15, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p17.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Virginia V centennial, 1922”

  1. Great article! Just curious: when did that portion of Bothell Way get renamed Lake City Way? It looks as if it was still Bothell Way up into the 1960s.

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