Steamship Virginia V

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The earliest use of the steamboat in the United States was the adoption of steam for small passenger and cargo carrying vessels. Dating to the first decades of the 19th century, these craft in time dominated the American steam excursion fleet.

With glowing wooden decks and sparkling white paint, the Virginia V, at 83 years old, is in the best shape it has been in since it was new. "The Five" now is ready for another 80 years of service for the Pacific Northwest. The Virginia V has been cruising the Northwest waters since 1922.

The Virginia V was, as its name implies, the fifth of the Virginia steamers. The first Virginia was built as a towboat in 1908, as the Virginia Merrill, for the Merrill and Ring Logging Company. The 54-foot vessel was sold to a consortium of neighbors who lived along Colvos Passage near Vashon Island.

Also known as "West Pass," the area gave its name to a new company, the West Pass Transportation Company, headed by Nels Christensen. Rechristened Virginia, the tiny vessel operated and linked the West Pass communities with Tacoma and Seattle.

The Virginia was replaced with the Virginia II, in 1912, and the Virginia III was added, in 1914. In 1918, the steamer Tyrus was purchased and renamed the Virginia IV.

These vessels served the West Pass Transportation Company for several years. The Virginia III was sold in 1927, while the Virginia IV was sold in 1922, when its engine and machinery were removed for the new steamer, Virginia V, the last of the Virginia steamers.

The success of the company was measured by the fact that competing steamboat lines had withdrawn from West Pass, and by 1930, the Virginia V was the only steamer operating between Seattle and Tacoma.

The Virginia V documents a crucial phase in Seattle's maritime history. It was built by M.M. "Matt" Anderson at Maplewood; a small community on Puget Sound opposite Vashon Island.

The Virginia V was ordered and laid down, for the West Pass Transportation Company, in 1922. The Virginia V’s keel was laid in October 1921. The hull was framed and planked by Christmas, and the steamer was launched without its engine in March 1922.

Towed to Seattle's King Street Drydock, the Virginia V was fitted with the Virginia IV's machinery in April, and in June, the Virginia V made its maiden voyage, beginning a 16-year career serving Colvos Passage, making 13 stops each voyage at the various communities along the way. Virginia V worked seven days a week, making a 126-mile daily trip, for a total of 46,000 miles a year. When roads were frequently impassible, this propeller-driven wooden steamer immediately became one of the vessels that supported the commerce and communications of Puget Sound. As a member of the mosquito fleet, the Virginia V joined a waterfront scene that was similar to many other American ports between 1840 and 1940.

Virginia V survived a near disaster on October 21, 1934 when it was caught and beat against the dock at Olalla, Washington, during the "great hurricane" of that decade. Seventy knot winds battered in the superstructure, collapsed the pilothouse, and laid up Virginia V with $11,000 in damages that took two months to repair. By the end of 1934, however, Virginia V had returned to service.

The Virginia V was added to the National Register of Historic Sites and named a City Landmark by the cities of Seattle and Tacoma. The Virginia V is owned and operated by The Steamer Virginia V Foundation and designated a National Maritime Historic Landmark.

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