Seattle-Bainbridge Ferry

Seattle, Washington

Photo Credit: Michael McColpin

The Puget Sound divides Seattle and Bainbridge Island, Washington. To bridge the watery gap, the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry was created to transport people from one side of the sound to the next. Since 1951 the only ferries employed on the route have belonged to the Washington state ferry system, which currently holds the record for the largest ferry system in the United States.

Bainsbridge Island first became popular among Seattle residence in the 1870s when the first community congregated around Eagle harbor in a community called Madrone. In 1902 the community chose to change their name from Madrone to Winslow. Farming formed the original foundation of the town’s economy and fueled its growth, with the most notable crop eventually becoming strawberries.

During the 1880s a boat dock was added to Eagle Harbor and served passengers going to and from Seattle and to other island and mainland towns. Routes began between Seattle and the settlement via the Seattle-Winslow ferry before the city of Winslow annexed the rest of the island in the 1990s and changed its name to Bainbridge Island. The ferry would effectively change its name to the current Seattle-Bainbridge Ferry to commemorate the change.

Before ferries were dominant on Puget Sound, the route was serviced by passenger and freight-carrying steamboats. The wooden steamship ‘Florence K’ served the route for the Eagle Harbor Transportation Co., until 1915 when the company invested in the new steamer ‘Bainbridge’ to service the route. In 1968, with increasing demand exceeding the vessel’s vehicle capacity, the ‘Tillikum’ and ‘Illahee’ were reassigned and replaced by two Super Class boats, each with capacities of 2,500 passengers and 160 automobiles.

In 1972-1973 the Super Class vessels were displaced by the Jumbo class ‘Spokane’ and ‘Walla Walla’, which remained in Bainbridge Island service until they were displaced in turn by the Jumbo Mark II Class vessels ‘Tacoma’ and ‘Wenatchee’ in 1997-1998. These vessels each remain assigned to the route today and can hold a capacity of 2,500 passengers and a maximum of 202 vehicles.

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