In the late 1880s, the life of a fisherman was hard. Their livelihood depended on fishing for salmon from small wooden boats in open waters. There were no skiff engines or powered “blocks” to hoist up their gear. The men used large heavy oars and cotton net was pulled in by hand. At the end of each season and to prevent rot, the “web” was rinsed in “bluestone,” a copper sulphate preservative and hung to dry in modest overwater structures called “netsheds.” These simple wood buildings provided easy access to their fishing vessels for year-round storage of their gear. They also served as a gathering place for skippers, crews, and their families.
By the 1940s, nylon replaced cotton nets, and gas-powered engines replaced the brute strength of the crew. As the town grew, many netsheds disappeared; displaced by new development and commercial marinas. Remarkably, the largest inventory of historic netsheds throughout the Puget Sound is located here. Today, 17 remain, with seven still in use by our Commercial Fleet of about 30 vessels. Like the fishing vessels themselves, netsheds are an iconic reminder of Gig Harbor’s early Croatian immigrants who settled along the waterfront.
In 2008, a Washington State Historic Preservation Grant from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) funded a documentation of 16 of Gig Harbor's netsheds. It was completed by the National Park Service HAER Maritime Program Coordinator, Todd A. Croteau, in the summer of 2009.
Croteau worked in partnership with the Council of American Maritime Museums (CAMM) and provided on-site demonstrations for Bates Technical College students to complete each Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). University of Washington students, Brian Diveley and Shelly Leavens also participated under the management of Croteau. Each structure includes a historical context narrative, measured drawings (24x36 mylars) and individual large-format black-and-white photographs archived at at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in the Prints and Photographs Division's HAER Collection. The documents will be held in the public domain and be available through the Library's web site "Built in America". The Skansie Park is listed on the local, state and national Registers of Historic Places.
The netsheds were also listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
To learn more about netsheds, visit the Skansie Netshed to watch net-mending demonstrations, see rope-tying and purse seine displays, and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of one of Gig Harbor's oldest netsheds.
Learn more about Gig Harbor's Inventory of 17 Netsheds