Colman Dock

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Colman Dock
Colman Dock (Pier 52) from Columbia Center.jpg
Colman Dock viewed from the Columbia Center
Type ferry terminal, former shipping
pier and warehouse
Locale Seattle, Washington
Owner Washington State Ferries
Total length prior dock (1917): 700 ft (213.4 m)
Width prior dock (1917):115 ft (35.1 m)
Coordinates 47°36′10″N 122°20′19″W / 47.602722°N 122.338512°W / 47.602722; -122.338512Coordinates: 47°36′10″N 122°20′19″W / 47.602722°N 122.338512°W / 47.602722; -122.338512

Colman Dock, also called Pier 52, is an important ferry terminal in Seattle, Washington. The original pier is no longer in existence, but the terminal, now used by the Washington State Ferry system, is still called "Colman Dock".


Colman Dock from the Seattle–Bainbridge ferry, with Smith Tower in the background

Originally Colman Dock was located at the foot of Columbia Street, and was immediately to the north of Pier 2. Before 1910, the wharf immediately to the north of Colman dock was used by the West Seattle ferry. In 1910 this wharf was replaced with the Grand Trunk Pacific dock.[1] In 1964 the entire area was used for the much larger ferry terminal dock which exists today.


Colman dock (clock tower on right) between 1912 and 1914.

Pier 52 was historically known as Colman Dock. The original Colman Dock was built by Scottish engineer James Colman in 1882. It burned with most of the rest of the city in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, but was quickly rebuilt.[2][3] In 1908, Colman extended the dock to a total length of 705 feet (215 m)[4] and added a domed waiting room and a 72-foot (22 m) clocktower.

Colman also set up a company, the Colman Dock Company, to conduct the dock's business affairs.[5] Following the merger of the La Conner Transportation Company, headed by Joshua Green (1869–1975), with the Puget Sound Navigation Company (PSN), headed by Charles E. Peabody (1857–1926) the Colman Dock Company, and the Colman Dock itself, came under PSN control. In 1910, PSN was approaching monopoly control over the inland steamship routes of western Washington, with the company's most serious challenger being the Kitsap County Transportation Company (KCTC), headed by Kitsap County businessman Warren L. Gazzam (1864–1961). The rivalry between the two companies became almost a personal matter between Green and Gazzam. In 1910, Green, having obtained control of Colman Dock, and engaged in a rate war with KCTC, ordered KCTC not to land its boats at Colman Dock. KCTC then moved several piers north, to the Galbraith, Bacon dock.[5]

Colman Dock with mosquito fleet ships in 1912

Colman Dock was seriously damaged when, on the night of April 25, 1912, the steel-hulled ship Alameda accidentally set its engines "full speed ahead" instead of reversing, and slammed into the dock. The dock tower fell into the bay and the sternwheeler Telegraph was sunk. The clock was salvaged, as was the Telegraph, and the dock was reconstructed with a new tower.[2] No one died in the Alameda accident, but a less dramatic accident the following month proved fatal. On May 19, 1912, a gangplank collapsed as passengers were boarding the Black Ball steamer Flyer. At least 60 people fell into the water. One woman and one child died.[6]

In 1917, Colman Dock was owned and operated by Colman Dock Company, with B. P. Morgan as manager. Colman Dock was the terminal of the Puget Sound Navigation Company, the Merchants Transportation Company, and several Puget Sound shipping lines. Colman Dock measured 700 by ll5 feet, with 1,400 feet of berthing space. In 1917 an overhead walk (still in existence in 1983[5]) led from the Seattle business district to the waiting room, from which most of the Puget Sound steamship passenger traffic originated. There were also adjustable passenger gangplanks and adjustable freight slips. In 1917 Colman Dock was equipped with a Barlow marine elevator. Colman Dock could accommodate 14 Puget Sound steamboats at one time. There were offices on the north side of the overhead walk.[1]

In the mid-1930s Puget Sound Navigation Company modernized Colman Dock, using an Art Deco style that matched their streamlined signature ferry MV Kalakala.[3][5]

In 1935, Colman Dock became the Seattle terminal for what had been the Alki–Manchester ferry when the dock at Alki Point washed out.[5]

In 1951, Washington State bought out PSNC and took over the ferry system. The state paid $500,000 for the ferry terminal at Colman Dock.[5]

Work on the present terminal began a decade later; there have been several reconfigurations and modernizations since.[3] The very month that the state ferry terminal opened, it was the subject of another accident. The Kalakala, which had recently been voted Seattle's second biggest attraction after the then-new Space Needle,[7] rammed the terminal February 21, 1966. Though dramatic, the damage proved not to be severe. The ferry needed only minor repairs and was back in service the next day. Repairs to the slip cost $80,000 and took two months to complete.[8]

The clock from the old Colman Dock tower, dunked into the bay in the 1912 Alameda accident and removed in the 1936 renovation, was rediscovered (lying in pieces) in 1976, purchased by the Port of Seattle in 1985, restored, given as a gift to the Washington State Department of Transportation, and reinstalled on the present Colman Dock May 18, 1985.[2]

Current status

Seattle's waterfront from the Bainbridge Island ferry as it approaches the Seattle ferry terminal at Colman Dock
Ferry unloading at Colman Dock, 2006.
The MV Chimacum, the newest ferry in the WSDOT fleet, arriving at Colman Dock on the route from Bremerton

Two ferry routes currently depart from Colman Dock: the Seattle–Bainbridge ferry and the Seattle–Bremerton ferry.

The King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Fast Ferries services, heading to West Seattle, Vashon Island, and Bremerton, use a temporary passenger-only dock at the north side of Pier 52. The dock was moved from the original south side dock at Pier 50 in August 2017 to accommodate the construction of a new integrated passenger-only facility.[9]


  1. ^ a b Beaton, Welford, ed. Frank Waterhouse & Company's Pacific Ports: A Commercial Geography (1917), at pages 27-37. (accessed 06-09-11).
  2. ^ a b c Alan J. Stein, Colman Clock (Seattle) Archived July 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., HistoryLink, December 4, 2005. Accessed 18 October 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Paul Dorpat, Seattle Central Waterfront Tour, Part 4: From Mosquito Fleet to Ferry System at Colman Dock Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine., HistoryLink, May 24, 2000. Accessed 18 October 2008.
  4. ^ Thomas Street History Services 2006, p. 19.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Kline and Bayless, Ferryboats – A Legend on Puget Sound, at pages 84, 135, 146, 160, 182, 240-44, 303, and 310.
  6. ^ Daryl C. McClary, Colman Dock (Seattle) gangplank failure dunks passengers boarding steamer Flyer, injuring 58 and drowning two, on May 19, 1912. Archived July 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., HistoryLink, February 24, 2005. Accessed 18 October 2008.
  7. ^ Kalakala Timeline Archived October 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., Kalakala Alliance Foundation. Accessed online 19 October 2008.
  8. ^ Alan J. Stein, Ferry Kalakala rams new Seattle Ferry Terminal on February 21, 1966., HistoryLink, March 4, 2001. Accessed online 19 October 2008.
  9. ^ "Water Taxi resumes service following move". August 11, 2017. Retrieved 21 August 2017. 


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