Seattle Now & Then: The Cascade steamboat, 1888

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: In this snowy scene from winter 1888, the steamboat Cascade, piloted by Captain George W. Gove, stops along the Snoqualmie River at The Landing, later renamed Fall City, next to today’s state Highway 202. Hauling hops from nearby farms, it also picked up stacked 4-foot cordwood. This is the cover photo for “Steamboats on the Snoqualmie,” a book by Steve Barker and Jack Russell. Built in 1884, the Cascade last operated in 1901. Visible onshore with a dog is 8-year-old Albert Moore, later a farmer and North Bend Timber fire warden. (Courtesy Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
NOW1: Gathering 200 feet east of the “Then” photo site are (from left) the co-authors of “Steamboats on the Snoqualmie,” Steve Barker and Jack Russell, with 11 Snoqualmie Valley heritage enthusiasts. Also displayed is a three-foot scale model of the Black Prince, the last sternwheeler to ply the Snoqualmie River as far as just below Duvall. Its final run, in 1928, was to remove equipment and machinery from an old mill. The model is owned by the Tolt Historical Society. Others pictured are (standing, from left) Kelly Barker, wife of Steve Barker; Hideko Fletcher, partner of Jack Russell; and, holding the Black Prince model: Jim Jordan, Tolt Historical Society trustee; Gene Stevens, Fall City Historical Society historian; and Rick Divers, Fall City Historical Society president. Sitting (from left) are Maida Ingalls, Tolt Historical Society president; Kris and Dick Kirby, Snoqualmie Valley Museum board member; Diana Anderson Amos, Tolt Historical Society volunteer; Marion Querro, Fall City Historical Society volunteer; and Donna Driver-Kummen, Fall City Historical Society board member. Barker and Russell will speak about their book Oct. 20, 2023, to the Fall City Historical Society. More info: (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on June 15, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on June 18, 2023

Soothing steamboat runs ended in upriver Snoqualmie in 1917
By Clay Eals

All 13 of those posing in this week’s idyllic “Now” scene came to the riverbank across from downtown Fall City by car. So did Jean Sherrard and I. Indirectly, the needs and wants of us and our collective forebears are why this section of the Snoqualmie River hasn’t seen a paddle-driven steamboat in well over a century.

THEN3: A side view of the 99-foot sternwheeler Cascade, as it backs up on Puget Sound in the late 1880s. (University of Washington Special Collections)

In the late 19th century, steamboats, also called sternwheelers, were part of Puget Sound’s celebrated Mosquito Fleet and a prime mode of transport for hops, timber and people in rural waterways. But their navigation fell victim to unmistakable signs of growth and progress — the complicating cables and booms of cross-channel ferries and bridges, the parallel routes of new railroad lines and the coming popularity (and rumble) of automobiles and trucks. Steamboat runs upriver as far as past Duvall, ended by 1917.

Thus, any rivercraft sailing past Fall City today consists only of recreational rowboats, rafts and kayaks.

The cover of “Steamboats on the Snoqualmie.” (Courtesy Steve Barker and Jack Russell)

But oh, for the days of steamboats, yearn childhood pals Steve Barker and Jack Russell. Now straddling age 78, they devoted their four most recent years to assembling a new, large-format book, “Steamboats on the Snoqualmie.” Its 148 pages overflow with 130 historical photos, six intricate maps and myriad details of elegant vessels from a seemingly gentler time, with names like the Traveler, the Ranger and the May Queen.

The softcover volume focuses on what we might call three “S-es”: the Snoqualmie River and to a lesser extent its downstream siblings, the Skykomish and Snohomish — a system emanating from the Cascades and snaking to saltwater in a northwesterly direction from above Snoqualmie Falls to Everett.

THEN2: As sixth-graders in 1957, Jack Russell (top row, far left) and Steve Barker (top row, far right) stand in a class photo at Hawthorne Elementary School in the Rainier Valley. They have been friends for 67 years. (Courtesy Jack Russell)

Russell, of unincorporated Skyway (between Seattle and Renton), and Barker, of Duvall, met in the fifth grade in 1955-56 at Hawthorne Elementary School in the Rainier Valley. Their families bore sternwheeler connections that buoyed their 67-year friendship.

NOW2 (online only): Co-authors Steve Barker (left) and Jack Russell stand in the pilothouse of Russell’s Christine W sternwheeler at Fishermen’s Terminal. Russell charters tours for up to 48 people. (From “Steamboats on the Snoqualmie“)

Barker, a retired banker, was the primary writer and Russell the researcher. Russell also parlayed his steamer passion into an adult vocation he still practices today. He runs a Fishermen’s Terminal-based charter service on the 1993-vintage Christine W, the only commercial sternwheeler on the Sound. It embodies an appeal the book can only attempt to capture.

“It’s the smell of the steam and the cylinder oil. It’s not a diesel chugging away,” Russell says. “It only goes 5 to 6 mph, so it’s a gentler motion. And steam whistles can be very pretty, very melodious. It just sounds different and feels different than a propeller vessel.

“And when the paddlewheel turns, you can hear the wheel hitting the water. It’s a soothing sound.”


Thanks to Ruth Pickering, Lisa Oberg and especially Steve Barker and Jack Russell for their invaluable 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. It includes the sounds of a sternwheeler whistle and paddleboat.

Below are a video of Jack Russell and his Christine W sternwheeler, a newsletter cover, 3 additional photos  and, in chronological order, 10 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.

February 2023 cover of the Fall City Historical Society newsletter.
Steve Barker and Jack Russell with Russell’s sternwheeler, the Christine W. (Clay Eals)
The Christine W sternwheeler is The boat is named for Jack Russell’s niece Christie (September 1973-July 2002). who died cancer. (Courtesy Jack Russell)
The Olympic sternwheeler plies the Sammamish River near Bothell. (Courtesy Jack Russell)
March 13, 1891, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Jan. 18, 1894, Anacortes American.
March 31, 1935, Seattle Times, p33.
Sept. 29, 1947, Seattle Times, p30.
April 4, 1954, Seattle Times, p82.
June 7, 1954, Seattle Times, p29.
June 9, 1954, Seattle Times, p12.
June 10, 1954, Seattle Times, p2.
June 11, 1954, Seattle Times, p42.
March 4, 1956, Seattle Times, p22.


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