SKANSIE NET SHED
3207 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
City of Gig Harbor
Fenced off for preservation work. Associated with Skansie Brothers Park and Jerisich Public Dock.
The seventeen extant net sheds in Gig Harbor, Washington, are significant as remnants of the community’s cultural heritage and economic development. Families, mostly of Croatian ancestry, have passed down the net sheds and fishing vessels for several generations. Many of the extant net sheds are an integral part of successful commercial fishing operations and are used for storing and mending fishing nets as well as repairing the equipment used for commercial vessels. Except for the remaining commercial fishing boats in the harbor, net sheds are the only surviving architectural connection between the community and what was once one of the most successful fishing fleets on the west coast.
Shelly Leavens, summer 2009
The City of Gig Harbor has taken steps to provide incentives for property owners who retain historic net sheds, and in 2006, conducted a general survey of the seventeen remaining structures lining the harbor’s waterfront. . In 2008, Mildred Andrews of the Andrews Group completed an independent survey of Gig Harbor’s historic downtown. The city secured grant funds from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to document the net sheds for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Todd Croteau, of the HAER Maritime Program, supervised the documentation team, which consisted of Brian Diveley and Shelly Leavens, both Sally Kress Tompkins Maritime Documentation Interns. A survey team of students from Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Washington, also lent support to the documentation effort. The documentation team’s liaison to the net shed owners is the City of Gig Harbor’s Special Projects Coordinator, Lita Dawn Stanton.
PART I -- HISTORICAL INFORMATION
PHYSICAL HISTORY OF BUILDINGS
- DATE OF CONSTRUCTION -- 1910 (original structure), ca. 1920s (new net shed)
- ARCHITECT / ENGINEER -- Skansie brothers
- BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Skansie brothers
- ORIGINAL PLANS -- None known
- ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
The Skansie net shed underwent numerous alterations and expansions through the years. It was expanded to the north with a small wood and machine shop, then built out into the harbor to the south and east in four successive additions. These additions were covered with a gabled roof similar to the original, but left an end dock exposed for loading and offloading nets and gear. The last addition to this structure for the purposes of commercial fishing was made in 1947, though it was renovated in 1955 and in 2008 emptied of its contents for a preservation survey. In 2004 the City of Gig Harbor contracted to have the net shed painted and the roof replaced.
Peter Skansie immigrated to Gig Harbor from Croatia in 1886. He established a homestead and then convinced his family to join him, specifically his brothers Mitchell, Joseph and Andrew. Andrew was born in 1876, was a stone mason in Croatia, and arrived in Tacoma in 1907. He built the Skansie home in 1908, then the net shed in 1910. Wife Bertha joined Andrew in Gig harbor in 1909. Together, the Skansie brothers developed a shipyard. “The Skansie Shipyard was begun in the late 1880s and evolved into a major boat building establishment for the Puget Sound purse seine fishing fleet…The Skansie family would fish in the spring and summer and build boats in the winter.”1 The Skansie family owned and maintained their original property from the late 1880s to its purchase by the City of Gig Harbor in 2002. Sons of Andrew and Bertha, Anton and Vince, maintained the property from the 1960s until its sale. The City of Gig Harbor is currently in the process of developing the net shed and surrounding property as a historic attraction, Skansie Brothers Park.
PART II -- STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Skansie net shed is 80’-9” long and 24’-11” wide at the dock. The shed is approximately 2,540 square feet.
The Pierce County Cultural Resource Survey of 1982 states, “A complex of wharf buildings and ways constructed of wood and generally with gable roofs. The rear portions are enclosed with casement windows. The water end of the buildings is open with wood post supports. Most of the building complex extends out over the water on pilings.” While the “complex” as described is one structure, for the extant Skansie net shed this description is still accurate, confirmed by a recent site visit. Drawing from the 2008 Coastal Heritage Alliance report and observation, description of the shed is divided into three sections, the machine shop, the shed and the dock. The shop, on the west side of the net shed, facing north, is 7’ x 9’8”. There is a separate door to enter the shop from the shed area, and there are windows on the three exterior walls. The shed can be entered through a large door on the west wall, which abuts the shoreline with a small porch. The shed extends into the harbor to the east, and is adjoined with a covered dock, both sitting on pilings over the tidelands. The shed has both single and sixpane casement windows – three on the north facing wall and five on the south facing wall. The entire structure is nearly original from its latest addition, including Douglas fir wood framing, shiplap walls, and vernacular style low pitch gabled roof with exposed rafter tails. The shed has been fenced off to block public entry until it is re-opened as a Skansie Brothers Park feature under the management of the City of Gig Harbor.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
The Skansie net shed is in fair to poor condition.
The entire Skansie Brothers property encompasses 1.1 acres of land, including three structures (Skansie home, garage and net shed) between Harborview Drive and the shoreline of Gig Harbor.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Skansie net shed in its historic
context (pre-1980). It is not currently in use as a net shed.
Commercial fishing: purse seining.
Purse Seine -- A purse seine is a large net hauled out by a smaller boat or “skiff” to form a large circle. Fishermen pull the bottom of the netting, “pursing” it closed to capture schools of fish.
Once the net is pulled aboard by a “power block” or “reel”, the final length of net full of fish is either pulled on-board, or a smaller “brailing” net is used to scoop the catch and load it into the vessel’s hatch. A cannery boat or “tender” typically transfers the fish to the cannery. Historically, fishermen of Gig Harbor have used this method to catch salmon, sardine and herring.
Cotton Nets -- In the 1930s and 1940s, while the Stanich net shed was in high use, fishermen tarred their cotton seine nets in order to hold their shape and keep them from rotting. The community had a large vat where the Millville Marina (HAER No. WA-186-G) is now, where they would soak the netting in the hot tar, then wring the net in rollers, to be stacked in the
back of trucks and spread it out in a nearby field. As the nets dried, the crew would take the net strips and spread them apart to prevent the pieces from sticking together. Typically the crew of the seining operation would do the tarring and mending of nets 2-3 months prior to leaving to fish, as part of overall preparations. Cotton nets would also need more mending and patching than nylon nets, which did not come into use until after WWII in the early 1950’s.
A crew of five men generally operate each purse seiner. Prior to restrictions on large vessels, the advent of the nylon seine net and the power block in the 1940s and 1950s, seine vessels usually had crews of 8 to 10 men.
Independence -- built by Skansie Shipyard in 1912
Andrew Skansie -- 66’ purse seiner Avalon, built by Mitchell Skansie at the Skansie Shipyard in 1929.
Vincent, Peter and Antone Skansie -- purse seiner Avalon
PART IV -- SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Whitney, Ross. Video-taped interview with George Ancich, George Bujacich, Nick
Tarabochia, and Andy Blair in the Skansie Net Shed. August 27, 2008.
Ancich-Stanton, Lita Dawn. Gig Harbor Net Sheds Survey. City of Gig Harbor, 2006.
Andrews, Mildred. “Andrews Group Report.” 2008
Gallicci, Caroline. “Skansie Boat Yard (PC-55-36a and PC-133-34a and 36a)” Pierce County Cultural Resource Survey. 1982.
Grulich Architecture and Planning Services. “Historic Structures Report Skansie Brothers Park.” City of Gig Harbor, 2004.
Harbor History Museum photo archives, Image Nos. HV-088-GH, HV-062-WS. Accessed June 2009.
Lepow, Hannah. “Washington’s Fishing Sheds Get Boost.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. July 8, 2008. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008. Accessed June 2, 2009.
“Living on the Edge: Most Endangered Historic Properties List – 2008.” Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, 2008.
Vlahovich, A. Michael. “Skansie Net Shed Survey. ” Coastal Heritage Alliance, 2008.
LIKELY SOURCES NOT YET INVESTIGATED
Coastal Heritage Alliance’s Skansie net shed object inventory and catalog of data.
1 Gallicci, Caroline. “Skansie Boat Yard (PC-55-36a and PC-133-34a and 36a)” Pierce County Cultural Resource Survey. 1982.