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.
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.
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