HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING SURVEY
GIG HARBOR NET SHEDS
SKANSIE NET SHED
(MORRIS NET SHED)
HAER No. WA-186-P
2809 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
David and Thomas Morris
Storage, social gathering place
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 extant 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 -1920
ARCHITECT / ENGINEER -- Not known
BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Peter Skansie
ORIGINAL PLANS -- None known
ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
To the knowledge of the current owners, the Skansie (Morris) net shed has been altered very little since the 1920s, though two small interior rooms were added sometime prior to 1970s. Tom Sr., Tom Jr. and Dave Morris have not made any major alterations to the original net shed structure since its purchase in the early 1970s, but have done general maintenance. Regarding the property, they recall that before a bulkhead was added to the shoreline the two adjacent cabins also sat on pilings. A new rock bulkhead was placed in front of the damaged concrete bulkhead adjacent and South of the net shed. In 2007 the owners divided the property into 2 lots. The Cabin to the South of the net shed ended up with about 160 feet of waterfront. The netshed and residence property has about 115 feet of waterfront. Dave Morris plans to own the net shed and upland residence with the rest sold. In 2008 a series of emergency maintenance and repair items were done. The net shed was tilting landward and in danger of collapse. A defective ceiling beam inside the shed was replaced. In addition, minor piling maintenance to about 6 piling under the deck as well as some rotten timbers under the deck. The net shed itself was jacked up to make it level but it still tilts about 6 inches to the West.
Vince and his wife Olive Skansie owned the net shed and a small cabin on the property until the sale of the entire property to the Morris family. Dave and Tom Morris purchased the Skansie (Morris) net shed in partnership with their father, Tom Morris Sr. around 1972. The property included the upland area, net shed and attached deck (form loading dock) the small cabin South of the net shed and a total of 280 ft of waterfront. They bought the entire property from Vince and Olive Skansie for $50,000. Tom Morris Sr. and his wife Dorthea built a new upland home on the property in 1980 where they lived until their passing. The house is now a rental. Dave and Tom split the property into two parcels, with the south parcel now for sale with at asking price of $765,000 for a cabin and 160 ft of waterfront. Dave hopes to replace the upland home and buy Tom’s share of the property for a place of retirement.
PART II -- STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Skansie (Morris) net shed and adjacent deck total approximately 3,059 square feet. The property is 26’-5” wide and 52’-2” long. The deck (old loading dock) is 58’-5” wide and 52’-2” long.
The Skansie (Morris) net shed is one of only two net sheds that are oriented parallel as opposed to perpendicular to the shoreline. Like many of the net sheds, moorage to the associated dock is dependant on tide. The style is vernacular, as the entirely wooden (Douglas fir) structure is a one-story building with a low pitch gabled roof, sitting on pilings. Exterior walls are clad in board and batten siding with prominent gaps in between the boards. The shed is open in the middle, with two smaller rooms on the north end. Around the perimeter are workbenches with remnants of tools and objects from the Skansie family, and some original cotton nets hanging from the rafters. An unused wooden pit toilet remains in the north corner, which empties onto the beach. Many of the original single pane window openings remain intact, though the frames have been renovated. Two large doors on overhead rollers are located on the east face of the shed going out to the dock. On the southeast corner of the dock is a large steel hoist (to be used with a cradle) for lifting smallcraft from a cart on rails into the water. Tom Morris Sr. built it in the 1970s.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
The Skansie (Morris) net shed is in fair condition.
The site includes the upland area with a house, garage, a net shed and dock, and two cabins on either side of the shed, with 115 feet of waterfront. The net shed and beach can be accessed via steep stairs. The shed is positioned horizontally facing the water and flanked on both sides by two small cabins, which are accessed by walking along the shore behind the bulkhead or along the beach at low tide.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the fishing operations and processes of the Skansie (Morris) net shed in its historic context. It is not currently in use as an active net shed.
Commercial fishing: purse seining.
Small vessel hoist. Steel construction hoist sits on south corner of dock, custom built by Tom Morris Sr. in the late 1970s.
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.
Vince Skansie: purse seiner Veteran
PART IV -- SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Oral history interview with Thomas and David Morris
Ancich-Stanton, Lita Dawn. Gig Harbor Net Sheds Survey. City of Gig Harbor, 2006.
Andrews, Mildred. “Andrews Group Report.” 2008.
Harbor History Museum photo archives, Image Nos. HV-086-GH, HV-115-GH. 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.
LIKELY SOURCES NOT YET INVESTIGATED
Engineered Drawings -- Plan
Engineered Drawings -- Profile
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective
The Netsheds continue to gain attention in South Sound Magazine (Oct/Nov 2013 -- page 4 below). To view full article go to "Full Circle: A New Home on a Historic Slice of Gig Harbor" by Lisa Patterson.