Characterized by a large steam driven sternwheel, the W.T. PRESTON has become an important and distinctive part of western Washington’s continuously evolving cultural landscape. Constructed and employed by the United States Army Corp of Engineers in 1929 as a snagboat, the W.T. PRESTON was responsible for removing navigational hazards and other detriments to water borne transportation from the rivers and tributaries of Puget Sound. These duties required the PRESTON to travel as far north as Blaine, Washington along the Canadian border, and south to Olympia. Active in this service until her retirement in 1981, the W.T PRESTON became the last operating sternwheeler on Puget Sound and one of the most famous vessels to ever work along the coast of Washington.

The need for such a vessel was recognized very early by the settlers in western Washington and the W.T. PRESTON was the third snagboat to ply the tributaries of Puget Sound. The development of the snagboats paralleled the development of the early communities in western Washington, communities that were hindered by two primary difficulties; heavy timber and impassable rivers. The thick stands of old growth timber soon fueled a profitable lumber industry, but this only intensified the problem of river navigation because of the lumber industry’s practice of floating logs down the rivers to the larger commercial centers along Puget Sound. As early as 1880 several rivers were made impassable by log jams and as a result the citizens in Washington petitioned Congress for money to aid in the construction of a vessel to remove the log jams and reopen water traffic, by now the region’s primary means of travel and commerce. Congress responded in 1882 by allocating $20,000 to the territory for the construction of a self propelled snagboat and in 1885 the first of these vessels, christened the SKAGIT was launched.

The SKAGIT served until 1914 when she was replaced by the SWINOMISH, which was replaced by the W.T. PRESTON in 1929. Named after William T. Preston, one of the Army Corp of Engineers’ most outstanding civilian engineers, the first W.T PRESTON had a wooden hull. In 1939 the wooden hull was replaced with a steel hull. This change was the last significant modification made to the vessel and the W.T. PRESTON continued in active service until 1981. Although another snagboat continues to perform the work of the these earlier vessels, the retirement of the W.T. PRESTON marked the end of working steamboats on Puget Sound.

Today the W.T PRESTON has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark and is maintained in a dry berth in Anacortes, Washington as one component of the Anacortes Museum. Open seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day the W.T. PRESTON continues to serve the people of western Washington as a center for the advancement of the appreciation and the interpretation of the region’s rich maritime heritage. Much as she opened the area’s rivers to continuous travel, today the PRESTON strives to foster an opening of the mind to the possibilities and the pleasures of learning from the past and the application of this knowledge to our future development and growth.

W.T. Preston Specifications:

Built at Lake Union Dry-dock, Seattle, Washington.
Official date of construction, 1939


163’ 5-7/8" (lol)


34’ 8-1/2"




490 gross


Two 150 hp reciprocating steam engines
14" bore x 72" stroke


180 psi Firetube


Flank: 27 rpm
Cruise: 16 rpm


18' wide x 17' diameter

Derrick Capacity

70 tons


16" x 16" x 70'8" (treated fir)

Maximum Lifts

Snag, 30 tons @ 28'
Bucket, 15 tons @ 60’

Photo: Brass Engineroom Vented Ullage Opening

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