On November 14, 1923, the Port of Grapeview commissioners hold their first meeting. The port district, formed to facilitate the transport of people and agricultural produce to other towns around Puget Sound, will build and operate a float at McLane's Cove, a small bay off Case Inlet in Mason County and a dock at Oak Passage, a channel between Stretch and Treasure Islands and the mainland. After the 1920s, the steamships that serve Puget Sound towns, known collectively as the Mosquito Fleet, will fall out of favor as increasing numbers of cars and new roads connected area towns. The Grapeview dock will be used into the 1930s, but then abandoned. In the 1960s the Port will develop and maintain a boat ramp at Fair Harbor, in Oak Passage, that will be used by recreational boaters.
Grapeview, an unincorporated community in Mason County, started as a handful of farms on Stretch Island, across Oak Passage from the mainland. Lambert Evans (b. 1836) purchased 40 acres in 1872, later adding another 132 acres, and cleared enough of the forest to establish a farm, which included an orchard and the first grape vines planted in the area.
Other farmers followed in the 1880s and 1890s. Adam (1850-1934) and Sarah (1854-1940) Eckert brought their family from New York to farm on Stretch Island. Eckert experimented with various varieties of Concord grapes until he developed a variety that was well-suited to the local growing conditions. The Island Belle grape grows larger and juicier than Concord grapes and resists the hull splitting that plagued other varieties in the area's rainy conditions.
Grape production quickly expanded in the area, as did other fruit farms and oyster harvesting. The farmers had few options for getting their produce to market, however. Overland transportation relied on the few unreliable roads that threaded through the region's forests. Waterborne transportation offered quicker and more reliable access to market towns. In the early years, settlers had to row to the nearest towns for supplies, mail, and business.
Beginning in the 1890s, a fleet of steamers operated by a number of companies traversed the waters of Puget Sound. They carried passengers, mail, supplies, livestock, and farm produce between towns.
Transporting Grapes to Market
At Grapeview, the steamships would come into Pickering and Oak passages and passengers would row out to meet them. As the grape harvest grew (it would reach about 320,000 pounds annually by 1923), area farmers saw the need for a dock to facilitate loading grapes onto the steamers. The grapes then traveled to markets in Western Washington and, according to a 1925 newspaper article, in San Francisco.
In 1926, area grape growers formed the Island Belle Grapegrowers' Union. Although it is not clear whether they proposed the formation of the Port of Grapeview, of the union's five incorporators, two, John J. L. Rauschert (1866-1929) and Edgar Wright (1879-1964) served on the Port's first board of commissioners. Forming a port district would have dovetailed nicely with the purposes of the union.
Forming the Port of Grapeview
The 1911 Port District Act allowed voters to form port districts that had the ability to levy taxes, issue bonds, and develop port facilities. Grapeview and Pickering precinct voters approved the formation of the Port of Grapeview on October 27, 1923. The district encompassed those two precincts, which lay along the water.
The idea for a dock must have developed prior to the port's formation because at the commissioners' first board meeting on November 14, 1923, they first passed a resolution relating to port business and then adopted a resolution that very specifically laid out a comprehensive plan. The planned called for a float connected by a gangplank and landing at the bridge at McLane's Cove and a pier and float at Oak Passage (located about one-third of a mile north of where the bridge to Stretch Island lies today) with a freight house.
The Port operated these two facilities until the late 1930s, when improvements in area roads allowed farmers to truck their produce to market rather than loading the crates onto steamships. As overland transport replaced the steamships around Puget Sound, the Mosquito Fleet-era ended and facilities such as the Port's docks fell into disuse. In 1949 the Port of Grapeview dock's piling at McLane's Cove had to be removed because the decking had collapsed and the piles posed a risk to marine traffic.
Docks, Floats, and Boats
The Port of Grapeview became active again in 1951, when the commissioners held a meeting, "to determine the location of a float for the benefit of local and visiting small boats" (July 2, 1951 minutes, Port of Grapeview minute book). Recreational boating had grown in popularity on Puget Sound in the post-war years and boaters needed facilities.
The float was not built, but in 1960 the Port built a ramp at Fair Harbor, on Oak Passage. The commissioners chose the new location on Oak Passage because it offered space for vehicle parking on the adjacent shoreland, whereas the Port's old facilities at McLane's Cove and further north on Oak Passage did not afford sufficient onshore space. An additional ramp was added in 1969.
During this era, one commissioner, Orin Buckingham (1902-1978), volunteered considerable hours to the development of Port facilities and the Grapeview community. Buckingham Lane, near Stretch Point State Park, is named in his honor.
In 1966 the commissioners proposed building a dock adjacent to the ramp. They solicited bids and held a public meeting. After hearing public comments in support of and against the proposal, the commissioners took a poll of the meeting attendees. Twenty-nine voted in favor of the plan, 25 against. The commissioners went forward with a ballot measure to assess a levy to carry out the plan. The measure does not appear to have passed and the project was not completed.
In 1969 a dispute arose over the site of the Port's former facilities at McLane's Cove. The Port maintained its right to replace its dock and the adjacent landowner claimed the tidelands on which it was built. In 1971 the court ruled that the Port retained the right to construct a facility in the future.
Also in 1969, the Port sold the tidelands it owned to the Department of Natural Resources. The Port had leased the property for oyster and crab operations, but, according to current commissioner Bob Allen, the responsibility of managing the leases proved too time-consuming for the volunteer commissioners.
For the Boaters
In 1990 the Port bought a piece of commercial property in Grapeview and then, in 1992, purchased land across the road from the boat ramps for a parking lot. With grant funds from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, the port developed the land for boat trailer parking.
The Port of Grapeview commissioners are currently seeking funding to build a float to facilitate launching and retrieving boats at the ramps. Through improving its facilities, the Port hopes to support the area's economic development by attracting more boaters who will visit local businesses.