HARSTINE ISLAND BRIDGE 50th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Ferry service to Harstine Island began in 1922 with a county-owned 3-car ferry named Island Belle. It took 30 minutes to cross Pickering Passage. The Island Belle made 3 trips a day, 3 days a week and was free; special trips cost 50 cents. In 1929 Earl Harriman built a log ferry at his own expense. A short time later the county constructed the second log ferry which charged 25 cents per car. It was followed by Harstine I in the early 1930’s and Harstine II in 1945. Harstine II carried 8 cars and made 9 daily trips plus special trips as necessary. On her biggest day, July 4, 1968, she carried 249 cars on and off the island. The charge was 50 cents per car.
In 1961 Mason County began investigating the possibility of replacing the ferry with a bridge. This involved county, state, and federal government agencies to approve the project. It took 5 years of bond issues and special elections to finally pass a bond levy in the amount of $450,000 on November 7th, 1967. This was the 4th time it had been on the ballot. It received 60.87% of the favorable votes, less than 1% more than the 60% needed for passage. The contract for building the bridge was awarded to Western Pacific Constructors of Seattle on April 28, 1968, for $1,005,471. Construction was financed by the $450,000 from the county-wide general obligations bond issue passed in 1967, $350,000 from the Road Improvement District formed by island property owners, and $300,000 from limited obligation bonds issued by the Road District to be repaid from its normal operating revenue. Construction took slightly more than a year to complete.
On Sunday, June 22, 1969, a dedication ceremony was held. The last official run of the Harstine II ferry was from the island to the mainland at 2:00 pm with Captain Glen Yates at the helm. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony a large crowd of dignitaries and islanders formed a special cavalcade to proceed across the bridge. The Grand Marshall, John Hitchcock (honored as the person who had lived on the island the longest in 1969), along with Martine Goetsch and Hilda Wingert in the back seat crossed the new span in a horse drawn buggy followed by a number of antique cars carrying many pioneer islanders. The procession made a loop by the old ferry landing. Going up the hill from there the horse’s hooves slid on the blacktop. The horse jerked and the buggy broke away and started rolling backward down the hill. Martin Goetsch grabbed the brake, the buggy stopped and tipped over backward. Fortunately, only the buggy was damaged. The procession then headed for the Community Club for the Bridge Opening Reception where refreshments were served to more than 400 people.
The following day the Harstine II ferry was sold at public auction by the Mason County Treasurer for $9,000 to Norton Clapp of the Weyerhaeuser family. Mr. Clapp used the ferry to haul passengers and supplies to and from a family owned island in the San Juan Islands.
A Bridge Opening Dance was held on July 5, 1969 and netted a record profit of $306.45.
2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the bridge brought to public attention by Community Club President Mike Callahan. Arlen Morris, Community Club Vice President, Program Planner and Island Historian organized a recreation of the original opening ceremony of the bridge. Families of early settlers and residents were contacted and invited to take part in the parade and later gather at the community hall for an evening of story-telling and games.
A horse and buggy led the first parade – a search was set for a horse and buggy. Not finding such, Jim Harrah, who had an interesting wagon, offered to pull it across the bridge with his tractor. A surprise to all, Jim created a pair of large plywood horses which he attached to the sides of the tractor to simulate the original horses pulling a buggy. Families and residents came with vintage cars and trucks, modern cars, and yes, a bicycle. Oliver Chapman, nine years old in 1969, had ridden his bicycle across the bridge in the 1969 parade. Oliver brought his bicycle and rode again at the 2009 parade.
Gathering for the parade took place in the Latimer’s Landing parking lot. It was a grand reunion for many who had not been back to the island for some time. Flags, banners, and crepe paper were available to all who wanted to decorate their vehicles for the event. Folks who were not participating in the parade walked on, lining the length of the bridge to wave and cheer on the paraders. All were participants of this wonderful celebration of a bridge that at one time was a subject of great controversy.
There is a video of the parade and gathering at the hall filmed by Lee Strohm and Rocky Paprocki. Rocky later created a documentary DVD of the event, including some film coverage from the air. Ed Murphy arranged for a pilot friend and island resident to film the event with several flyovers. Rocky, an early 60’s rock and roll musician, added music of the time to the film.