Washington's Fishing Sheds Get Boost

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Croatian immigrants built Gig Harbor's maritime barns, or "netsheds," at the turn of the last century.

Credit: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

Residents of Gig Harbor, Wash., and fans of the town's historic waterfront sheds used to store fishing nets have had a lot to celebrate recently. Days after the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation named Gig Harbor's 16 "netsheds" to its 2008 Most Endangered Historic Properties' list in May, the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation awarded the city a $15,000 grant to survey the sheds.

Both of these measures are important steps in convincing the coastal community of 6,900 facing development pressure of these structures' importance. "The netsheds aren't an artifact under glass," says Lita Dawn Stanton, historic preservation coordinator for the town, located 45 miles from Seattle. "This is living history, and it's going on right now."

This month, one of the oldest sheds, built in 1910 of local fir, was opened to the public for the first time.

The netsheds were built by Croatian immigrants who came to Gig Harbor at the turn of the 20th century and established a commercial fishing industry. The wood structures provided storage for fishing gear, a gathering place for crews, and access to boats. "Like barns are to farms, these netsheds are to fishing vessels," Stanton says.

Seventeen netsheds remain. Only 12 of the structures are still working and serve the commercial fishing fleet, which was once one of the largest fleets on the west coast.

Cathy Wickwire, program associate for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, says that Gig Harbor is not interested in blocking development but in retaining its historic character. "It's an authentic place," she says.

Awarded to Gig Harbor in June, the grant will cover travel costs and materials necessary for a documenting team from the National Park Service to document each netshed and record individual histories. The team will give those documents to the Library of Congress for its Built in America Web site.

The netsheds are "a really rare resource," says Megan Duvall, the certified local government and survey coordinator with the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation who worked with the city to obtain the grant. Duvall hopes the study will make Gig Harbor locals aware of their historic assets. "[The netsheds] are a living reminder of what built their town, a conscious, physical reminder of the roots of the city. The grant will give the community a really clear story."

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Submitted by Lita Dawn at: May 30, 2009
We're starting the NetShed survey the week of June 15th. In conjunction with that, one of 7 meetings will be held at the Tacoma Working Waterfront Museum on June 3 at 4:30 to discuss the state's application to the National Park Service to designate the entire Puget Sound as a National Maritime Heritage Area. This is huge!! It will be the first in the country. Go to http://www.cityofgigharbor.net/page.php?id=920 of the City of Gig Harbor website to get more information. Thanks again for such a wonderful article on the NetSheds.

Submitted by Gig Harbor native at: July 11, 2008
Wonderful article. Thank you for running it!!