Now located in Anacortes, Washington, the W.T. Preston was the last sternwheeler to work in the Puget Sound and one of the two remaining snagboats in the United States. It is now on display at the Anacortes Museum. The snagboat has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The W.T. Preston came into service in 1929, and was named in honor of William T. Preston, the only civilian to serve as a district engineer for the Seattle District Army Corps of Engineers, who operated it.
Initially the large steam-driven sternwheeler was built on a wooden hull, with parts taken from another snagboat, the Swinomish. The wooden hull was replaced in 1939, with a new steel hull.
The W.T. Preston was assigned the task of removing navigational hazards from the Puget Sound and its tributaries. During her tenure, the Preston operated as far as Blaine in the north, and Olympia and Shelton in the south.
On average, it worked 11 months a year, dredging about 3500 cubic yards of material from the sound. Apart from retrieving snags, piles, floats, and debris, it was even used for removing fishing boats, scows, houseboats, and on one occasion, a damaged airplane. Occasionally it was also used as a pile driver and an icebreaker.
With the declining importance of Puget Sound as a commercial waterway in the 1960s, the role of the boat also subsided. Its operating and maintenance cost increased and its tenure was terminated in 1981. A proposal for the boat’s future preservation was put forward by the Army Corps and the Government Services Administration.
The proposal received responses from more than 30 municipalities and private organizations. The City of Anacortes won the ownership of the vessel in March, 1983. The steamship was transferred to Anacortes, where she was taken out of water in June 1983.
It was placed in drydock, adjacent to the old Burlington Northern Railroad Depot and was made part of the Anacortes Museum, which opened the boat for public exhibition.
In recognition of her contribution to maritime history and government service, the W.T. Preston was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1989.
The Snagboat Heritage Center, whcih was established in April 2005, is part of the city’s commitment in taking care of the historic snagboat. The center contains artifacts, models, and texts related to this and other snagboats that maintained the waterways of the region.