Seattle Now & Then: The Fisher Flouring Mill on Harbor Island, 1917

(As ever, click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A 1917 view of the Fisher Flouring Mill looking northeast across the Duwamish River’s west channel. Harbor Island, completed in 1909, was built of fill from the Yesler and Jackson Street regrades and dredge spoils from the river’s bed. Until the late-1930s, it was the largest artificial island in the world. (courtesy Phelps Fisher)
NOW1: Standing atop the shuttered mill’s vast warehouse are (from left) author and scone-maker Jim Erickson, Phelps Fisher and Kate Becker, King County creative economy director. Becker heads efforts to repurpose the warehouse as a film and TV production studio. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on June 22, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on June 25, 2023

The flouring Fisher family legacy–from scones to silver screen
By Jean Sherrard

A Now & Then pop quiz: What do the once-mighty Fisher Communications Company, the Puyallup Fair and recently crowned King Charles III have in common? A hint: It’s dense, fragrant and dolloped with butter, clotted cream and fresh jam.

Kudos to all who came up with (drum roll) … the scone.

Jim Erickson will sign copies of his book at the Invitation Bookshop in Gig Harbor on June 27, the Lakewood Barnes & Noble on June 30, the Puyallup Library on July 8, and King’s Books in Tacoma on July 11.

James Erickson, author of the lavishly illustrated “Washington’s Fisher Scones: An Iconic Northwest Treat since 1911,” records the pastry’s Scottish origins. He guesses that the medieval town of Scone (also noted for the Stone of Scone, atop which all British monarchs have been crowned for 800 years) may have baked an eponymous prototype in the early 1500s.

In his new book, Erickson documents the entrepreneurial, non-royal Fishers, who, seeking opportunities in a booming port city, relocated in 1911 from Montana to Seattle.

Just-completed 350-acre Harbor Island at the mouth of the Duwamish River, constructed of fill from dredging and recent Seattle regrades, with ready access to shipping and room to grow, proved the ideal location for their flour mill.

Largest in the western United States, the Fisher plant was “equipped to grind about 10,000 bushels of wheat … [and] create 2,000 barrels of flour a day.” But in the fiercely competitive flour business, Erickson writes, effective ads were key. Reaching into its Scotch ancestry, the family decided “to make scones and give them away or sell them for a nickel.”

In 1915, the “sweet treats” were debuted to acclaim at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, followed that year with the first annual appearance of a Fisher Scone booth at the Puyallup State Fair.

A decade later, another promotional brainchild beckoned. Fans of the then-new medium of radio, the Fishers purchased a broadcast frequency — available following the arrest of its previous owner, notorious Seattle bootlegger Roy Olmsted. The station, KOMO, went on the air Dec. 31, 1926, promoting Fisher Blend Flour.

In years to come, the family built a local media empire comprising dozens of radio and TV stations. Phelps Fisher, today a vigorous 90-year-old, worked his way up from the flour mill to chair the board of Fisher Communications.

For Fisher, it’s always been about family. “We worked together, supported each other and managed to get along,” he says. The result: “a wonderful, honest, productive business for the better part of the 20th century.”

Kate Becker welcomes Phelps Fisher (left) and Jim Erickson to a vast soundstage inside the 117,000-foot former Fisher Flour warehouse, now Harbor Island Studios. During the pandemic, several TV series were produced here, including an Amy Poehler production, “Three Busy Debras.”

The flour mill was sold to Pendleton Flour Mills in 2001 and recently was transformed to a film studio. Meanwhile, Fisher Communications was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2016. The Fisher Scone, notes Jim Erickson, “has outlived the very brand it served to promote.”


No 360 this week. However, we offer this illuminating interview with the delightful Phelps Fisher.

Phelps Fisher on the steps of the former Fisher Flour office building..

Plus a few more photos from the former Fisher Flour/now Harbor Island Studios site:

A huge “green screen” in place at Harbor Island Studios.
The last time Phelps Fisher visited, the warehouse was filled with sacks of flour.
A southeast view from the warehouse roof along a branch of the Duwamish river.
A trapdoor in the warehouse reveals the waters of the Duwamish below.
A northerly view of the huge flour mill.


3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Fisher Flouring Mill on Harbor Island, 1917”

  1. Jean, nice article and history, I think you may have met my father back in the day, Byron Coney, I know Paul has and I sent some photos and negatives to Paul years ago.

    The Fisher mansion is currently for sale, only the second time since Oliver D sold it (his estate) to my father in the 70’s.

    You may also have seen it in the past, he like to have July 4th parties and would invite everyone. If you would like to see it one more time, or have other questions, feel free to contact me, Russell Coney.

  2. Fisher has always been a valued -and delicious- local icon for the better part of my life

  3. Wonder if that lumber mill (West Waterway Lumber) in the 1917 photograph on the west side of West Waterway is on the same land as the modern day imaged mill behind the little tugboat?

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